HORACE W. CARPENTER
THEIR CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
REV. O. HANSON, Lnr. D.
AMERICAN BAPTIST MISSION PRESS
F. D. PHINNEY, SUPT.
/. The Origin of the Kachins.
Their territory. Kachins in Burma. Assam Kachins. Kachins in
China. Kachin tribes. Origin of Kachin families. Ancestral home.
The name Kachin. Migration. Relation between Maru and Bur-
mese. Territorial distribution.
//. Kachin Dialects.
The growth of dialects. Number of dialects. Grammar. Outside
influence. Jinghpaw leading dialect. Maru, Atsi and Lashi. Rela-
tions to other groups. The source. Classification.
///. Country, Village and Home.
The country. Fauna. Flora. The village. Village entrance (maa-
hang) . Place for the nat altars. Dancing floor. The house. House
IV. Appearance and Dress.
Physiognomy. Physique. Dress among men. Sword and bag.
V. Characteristics, Habits and Customs.
Independent. Revengeful. Reserved. Honesty. Hospitality. Per-
sonal habits. Chewing, drinking and smoking. Food. Refinement.
Morals and " etiquette."
VI. Government and Law.
Patriarchial form of government. " Rebel " chiefs. The hereditary
chief. The village pleader. Elders. Religious officials. Property.
Law. Theft. A loan. Adultery. Illegimate children. Blood-money.
Desertion and elopement. Inheritance.
Slavery. Agriculture. Trading. Mining. Blacksmiths. Hunting
and fishing. Weaving. Other work of the women. Baskets and
VIII. Weapons and Warfare.
The sword (dak). Spear. Cross-bow. Guns. Powaer. Warfare.
Stockades. Pitfalls. Kachin bravery. Shields.
Vi THE KACHINS.
IX. Social Life and Amusements.
Children at Play. Women. Young people. The village bard.
Music. Dance and dancing. The great religious dance, (manau).
X. Intellectual Development
Kachins illiterate. Sign-language. Drawing. Calendar. Measures.
Weights. Money. Numbers. Plants and medicines. Proverbs. Rid-
XL Mythology and Traditions.
Creation. Flood. Origin of death. The lost book. Why the
Kachins are nat-worshippers. Explanation of natural phenomena.
Thunder. The rainbow. Eclipses. Earthquake. The moon. The
universe. Origin of the religious dance. First man to die of snake-
bite. How fire was discovered. First man burned to death. Customs
observed after a fire. First men killed by accident First man
drowned. Why the Kachins offer to the spirit of jealousy. How
rice was obtained. How water was found.
XII. In quest of the Unknown.
Attempts to disclose the secrects of the future. The medium.
The diviner. Divination. Auguries. Omens, dreams. Charms.
Rules to insure good luck. Ordeals. Witchcraft. "Cursing."
XIH. The Kachin Religion.
Spirit-worship. Reticence regarding details. Ancestor worship
Universality of spirits. Dread of the nats. No trace of totemism.
the priest-hood. Jaiwa, Dumsa, Hpunglum. Offerings. Nat-altars.
The nat. Primitive nats. Of later date. Ancestral spirits. Fates.
Witch-nats. Fear the motive power in their religion. Propitiation
of the nats. Objects sought. Order of service. Appeasing offended
nats. Warding off danger. Prayers for riches. Sowing and harvest
festivals. Help in illness. Ideas of a supreme being. No worship in
XIV. Natal Ceremonies.
Large families desired. Rules observed at child-birth. Cutting of
the navel. Natal feast. Purification of the mother. Death in confine-
ment. Names and naming. " Nick-names." General remarks.
XV. Marriage Ceremonies.
Courtship. Parents arranging the details. Consanguinity Abduc-
tion. Preliminaries. Proposal. Price paid. Bride leaving the parental
home. Presents exchanged. Marriage ceremony. Blessing the bride.
Testing her mind. Work of the Jaiwa. Return of the bridal party.
Bride visiting her parental home.
XVI. Funeral Ceremonies.
Life after this. The spirit (tsu). Influenced by Buddhism. Inhuma-
tion. Order of funeral ceremonies. Announcement of death. Shroud-
ing, washing and removing the corpse. Placed in " state." Making
the coffin. The karoi. First part of the funeral dance. Grave.
Burial. Second part of the ceremonies. Death-dance. Putting the
spirit to sleep. "Hiding" of the corpse. Final ceremonies at the
house. Sending away of the spirit. Sprinkling the house of mourn-
ing. The last sign. Re-enstatement of the famiiy nati.
XVII. The Future of the Kachins.
Bound up with the future of Burma. Backward races and the
new life. Respect for law. Education. The Kachin Military Police.
Terms of relationship.
Family names. List of the most common family names.
In publishing this volume on the Kachins, I present
the results of many years of study and contact with this
interesting people. I have visited them in almost every
part of Kachinland, from Assam, the Hukong Valley and
the confluence of the Mali and N-Mai rivers, to the southern-
most part of the Northern Shan States. Among the
Kachins in Chinese territory very little original work has
been done, but we are sure that in regard to life,
customs and religion they are practically one with their
kinsmen to the west.
The book makes no claim to be exhaustive, especially
in regard to detailed accounts of religious customs and
traditional lore. Two or three volumes of this size would
not suffice if we should attempt minute details and a
full collection of all their stories. Every community exhibits
some peculiarities in regard to religious practices ; they
may have their own local " divinities " attending to their
special needs, receiving honor in some particular way
There is no particular gain in following out all these details,
as they after all bear the marks of what is recognized as
the general religious customs and ceremonies. Stories and
traditions have also local colourings and it is proverbial
that priests and story-tellers do not agree among them-
selves. What we here attempt is to present the Kachin
as he appears in his everyday life in his mountain
home, and an account of his customs and religion as far as
they are common and accepted by all.
Viii THE KACHINS.
Our principal source of information regarding the hill-
tribes is the "Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan
States/' This is an excellent work representing a vast
amount of labour. I have not made it a point to criticize
or correct the account of the Kachins there given. Only
a few times have I quoted from its pages, where in so
doing I am enabled to bring out my own view more clearly.
I have preferred to tell my own story, as I have it from the
life of the Kachins, and from a long observation of their
village and homelife. Those particularly interested in the
subject can easily find out where we differ or agree.
Having followed this course, it does not mean that I do not
heartily appreciate what has been done by others. The
account as given in the Gazetteer is quite full, and remark-
ably exact for the time it was written ; and the compilers,
who generally had to depend on the assistance of interpre-
ters, did their work wonderfully well.
The temptation has been strong to compare the Kachin
customs and religion with the practices of related tribes
such as the Karens, Chins, Nagas, Garos, Mishmis and
Abors. The Assam Census Report of 1891 is particularly a
great storehouse furnished with material for ethnological
study, and most of the border tribes there described have a
great deal in common. But in a work of this kind it is
best to confine ourselves to the particular people under
survey. When monographs of all the principal tribes
and races are before us, someone will settle down to the
inviting task of giving us a comprehensive view of the
The chapter on the Origin of the Kachins will probably
seem too radical, as it goes contrary to many generally
accepted ideas of the Kachin communal life. We are proba-
bly, not ready to drop the word " tribes " when speaking
of the five ruling families. But to show how this simplifies
matters let me quote from the Gazetteer, page 402,
Chap. VII. Speaking about family names the author says :
" It is somewhat singular that all having the same surname,
whether they belong to the same or different tribes, regard
themselves of one blood and do not intermarry. Thus
a Maran Chumlut cannot take a wife from the Szi Chumlut.
This is interesting, because it suggests totemism, and
because it shows that the family distinctions are older
than the tribal." The author of these sentences came near
stumbling on the true solution of the problem. A Chamlut
is a Chamlut under whatever chief he may live, and cannot
marry anyone with that name. The fact that he is the
subject of a Maran or L&hpai chief does not in the least
interfere with his family relations. He is not a M&ran
or Lahpai, simply a Chamlut who may at any time move
and settle down in a village ruled by a MSrip, Nhkum
or LShtaw chief. It is quite true that " family distinctions
are older than the tribal." To the Kachin mind there
is nothing but family distinctions, however involved they
may seem to us. If we, for the sake of convenience,
still use the word " tribe " to distinguish the ruling families
in their capacities as chieftains, we should not forget
that the family of a chief is no more a "tribe" than is
the family of any other name. In this work, however, I
have avoided the use of the word because of the confusion
it has caused.
In tracing three different movements in the Kachin
advance south I am relying on vague hints in their
traditions, and on statements of a few old men whose
opinions have seemed to me worthy of consideration. If
my memory does not fail me, the first one who put me
on this track was an old Gauri chief of Mahtim, one of
the most intelligent Kachins I have ever seen.
In a supplement I have tried to elucidate the intricate
question of Kachin relationship and family names. Those
that wish to pursue these studies further will find some help
from the Kachin Dictionary and Grammar. The original of
many of the stories and traditions given in these pages will
be found in the Kachin Spelling Book and First Reader.
Those who have come in contact with the Kachins
X THE KACHINS.
will no doubt have in mind many particulars not mentioned
in these pages. My aim has been to present the essential
features that will interest the ethnologist and the student of
language and comparative religion, and give a practical
working knowledge of Kachin ways, habits and customs.
Namkham, Northern Shan States,
THEIR CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS.
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS.
The Kachins occupy a large and fertile territory extending
from 29 north latitude to almost 23 north latitude.
They are a mountain people, and it is only recently
that some of them have taken to the plains, where they,
however, rapidly degenerate or lose their peculiar character-
istics. Most of them live within the boundaries of British
Burma, but large numbers inhabit the hill-country of
western Yunnan, and smaller communities are found in
Assam and along the borders of Tibet. The whole of
northern Burma down to the 24th parallel is largely under
Kachin influence. On the west side of the Irrawaddy
they are not as strongly represented as on the east, but
they are found as far south as Katha and Wuntho, holding
the hills in the Mogaung district, and in undisputed posses-
sion of the country north of Kamaing, the Jade-mines,
and the whole of the Hukong valley. The hill-tract between
Myitkyina and the Kampti valley is inhabited by the
Hkahku Kachins, and the Singhpo families are still
numerous on the north-east border of Assam. On the
east of the great artery they hold both mountains and
valleys as far as the Salween, and are quite numerous as far
south as North Hsenwi and the Ruby-mines district. For-
merly the large plains in the Bhamo district and northern
Shan States were also tributary to them. The Kachin chief
lived in his mountain "fortress," from which he sent his
subordinates to collect taxes or levy blackmail on the
Shans and Burmans in the lowlands. If there was any
delay in payment, or if they showed any spirit of insubordi-
nation, the robber-chief took quick vengeance, raiding their
villages or imposing a heavy fine in grain, cattle and money.
It is only the British rule that has put an end to their
conquests, and established peace and order among the hills.
The Assam Kachins. The Singhpo of Assam is the same
as the Jinghpaw or Kachin of Burma. The Assamese being
unable to pronounce the word Jinghpaw, render it Singhpaw.
The true Singhpaw is in most particulars one with his
kinsmen further south, and in former days there was a
great deal more intercommunication than there is now
between the two sections. There are also some small
families such as the Ddrungs and Faqueers who speak
Singhpo, but are of mixed blood. Pure Singhpos (Kachins)
are found east of Ledo, and the dialect is spoken as far
west as Dibrugarh and Golaghat. The Ddrungs have a
story that they were for generations held as slaves by
the Dining river in the Hukong valley, when the Shans
(no doubt under the rule of the Ahoms), ruled that country.
Thus their dialect became largely a Shan patois, and they
lost many of their Kachin characteristics. There is appa-
rently some truth in this, and the Ahom rule is no doubt
responsible for the fact that the Kachins never became
so strong on the west side of the Irrawaddy as on the east.
Kachins in China. In western Yunnan the Atsi Kachins
are very numerous and further north are found the Mrus,
Nungs, and other allied tribes, of which very little is known.
When more has been learned regarding the frontier tribes we
will know more about the race as a whole and their
past movements. We know, however, that in language,
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 13
habits, customs and religion they do not materially differ
from their kinsmen in other parts of Kachinland.
Kachin tribes. There are, strictly speaking, no Kachin
tribes. They themselves recognize only different families
and linguistic divisions. For the sake of convenience,
however, we may call the group of families that speak
the same dialect a tribe or a clan, while we employ the
name Kachin for the people as a whole. Still it must
be remembred that the linguistic and family divisions are
not at all co-terminous. Following the linguistic divisions
we have the Jinghpaw, Mdru, Ldshi, Atsi, and Nung tribes,
while the Hkaku, Gauri and Sdsan simply represent local
conditions. All Kachins, however, whatever dialect they
speak, call themselves Jinghpaw, and recognize a common
source and ancestry. Most of them know nothing about
the word Kachin, and, those that do as a rule resent
the appellation, as carrying with it an unpleasant reference
to their barbarous and uncivilized ways. But we accept the
term because it> is in common use, and is the only name
in which all these divisions and subdivisions can be
included. The Yawyin or Lishaw tribe are by some Kachins
claimed as distant relatives, and many of them live within
Kachin territory, but they prefer to regard themselves as
an offshoot from the Chinese, and in this they are undoubt-
Origin of Kachin Families. According to Kachin tradition,
(our only authority on the subject), they are the descendants
of a certain Wahkyet wa, a semi-mythological figure. His
five oldest sons became the progenitors of the five recog-
nized families of chieftains. These are
La N-Gam, (Mdrip wa Gumja), the "golden" father of
the Mdrip family.
La N-Naw, (Ldhtaw wa Naw Lawn), the " aggressive "
father of the Ldhtaws.
La N-La, (Ldhpai wa La Tsan), the " far-spreading "
father of the Ldhpais.
14 -THE KACHINS.
La N-Tu, (Tsit wa Tu Hkum), the " verdant " and growing
father of the N-Hkums.
La N-Tang, (Mdran wa Ningshawng ), the " first " of the
From these five families come all the hereditary chiefs,
and no one bearing one or the other of these names can
ever be counted among the " commoners." When a branch
of a chiefs family " loses caste " and dwindles down among
the common people, the original name and all that goes
with it is lost. (See Supplement II).
Following these five were born three younger sons, who
did not become rulers. Their families became identified
with and absorbed in the three smallest of the first five,
thus helping to swell their numbers. These are
La N- Yaw, who became one with the N-Hkum family.
La N-Hka, who became identified with the Ldhtaws, his
particular descendants becoming known as the Ldhtaw
Hka shu Hka ska, the divided children of the Ldhtaws.
La N-Kying, " the branch " who abode with the Mdran
family, his children being given the name Mdran wa Kying
Nang, the " outgrowing " branches of the Mdrans. " Individ-
uals from these families may also become chiefs, but
are not reckoned in dignity with the regular chieftains.
According to one tradition, Wahkyet wa had three wives,
according to other sources ten times that number. The
first of these, Mdgawng Kdbang Mdjan, is apparently the
mother of the chiefs, although this is not quite certain. The
other wives became the mothers of the numerous families of
"commoners," (ddroi ddrat), who are ruled by the chiefs
from the ruling families. These can never carry the
name of a chief except in the sense that they are his
slaves, dependants or subjects. A Ldhpai chief, for instance,
will rule over a village where there are represented scores
and scores of common families. The custom of naming
such a community after the chief naturally gave rise to the
impression that the chief and his subjects were of the same
" tribe," while in reality the common people bear the name
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 15
of the chieftain only by courtesy or as a matter of con-
venience. There can be no blood relation between them.
Ancestral Home. Where are we to look for the ancestral
home of Wahkyet wa and his valiant sons? If we could
answer this question with absolute certainty we would
bring light on many an obscure point in early Burman
history. But here we are left to often contradictory tradi-
tions and consequent conjectures. ^There are, however,
three faint beacon lights to guide us in this sea of uncer-
tainty. (1) All Kachins claim that they come from Mdjoi
ShingraBum or Kdang Shingra ; (2) their traditions indicate
an acquaintance with the sources of the Irrawaddy, and
(3) the names of the "original" districts ruled by the
first ancestral chiefs have been handed down to us^
It would seem that with these landmarks to guide us
we would be able to determine something regarding their
early home. But a close examination leads to the dis-
appointing conclusion that we are only dealing with legends
from which very little of a historical character can be
extracted, and where we seem to have history it leads
us only two or three centuries back. Our first question
is where to locate Mdjoi Shingra Bum, or as it is also called,
Kdang Shingra or Mdjoi Shingra Hkindawt. The meaning
of the words are fairly plain. The only question is what
interpretation to give to the word Shingra. It may mean
level, even, or original and thus common. In either case
the meaning would be clear. It is "the naturally flat
(or original) mountain," the "central (or common) plain,"
the " borders of the common plain." In each case we have
the picture of a plateau or high table-land, the ancestral
home, situated at the centre of the world, being the border
land to all surrounding countries. l.All Kachins when con-
fronted with the question where this mountain is to be
founo^ invariably reply, "Way up there," pointing to the
north. ; Further than this they cannot carry us. A few will
describe a high, snowclad mountain reminding us of Dapha
Bum in north-eastern Assam. That the old Kachins were
16 THE KACHINS.
acquainted with this noble hill is quite certain, and the
word bum is the Kachin for mountain. But to-day it
lingers in their tradition as a kind of Mount Meru. Others
claim that it is a land of snow and frost, much colder than
any place now inhabited by them. Here too we deal most
likely with mere conjectures and impressions. The Kachins
have no term for snow, while they have a word for frost
which they see every cold season among their present hills.
Even a northern Kachin must borrow a Chinese term when
naming a snow-drift. Some of the Hukong Kachins locate
the mountain in the territory occupied by the Nungs,
north-east of Kamhti Long. That they occupied this district
for some time on their way south is certain, but it cannot
have been their original home.
While an acquaintance with the head-waters of the
Irrawaddy is evident, it does not throw much light on
our enquiry. Four great rivers are mentioned in the old
traditions. The are the Mali hka (the Irrawaddy), called
in poetic language Ja Kdw, the golden female Kaw, which
was " measured out " (by the Creator) with a golden spoon ;
no doubt a reference to the well known fact that gold
has always been washed in this river ; the N-Mai hka ;
(the N-Mai river), called figuratively Ja Lu, the golden Lu,
sister to the Mali hka (another rendering makes the N-Mai
the wife of the Mali), measured out with a silver spoon; the
general belief is that the N-Mai produces silver as the
Mali gold; the N-Shawn, (probably the Diking) regarded
as a male "measured out" with a copper spoon, and the
Hpunggawn (most likely the Brahmaputra), of the same
gender and humble origin, y^ll that can be safely inferred
from the mention of these names is that the Kachin hordes
two or three centuries ap were living in the territory drained
by these great arteries.) They could not for some time
break through the barrier that kept them back beyond
the 28th parallel. Only as the Shan power in Assam and
f Yunnan began to weaken could the warriors press south.
iBut that they lived in this region probably for centuries,
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 17
does not prove that this was actually their ancestral home.
This was their " wilderness " where they were trained
for the second and most important advance.]
When we examine the names of the original districts
ruled by the five parent chiefs, and try to identify them
with present localities, we find that these record the memo-
ries of the first conquests after they have left the north
Kamhti country, and thus lead us back only about two
hundred and fifty or three hundred years. Here as elsewhere
tradition is not unanimous, but the most likely version is
that, (1) "The golden father of the Mdrips ruled the
Wang Ya, the round plain, which may refer to the Hukong
where the Mdrips are numerous ; (2) the " aggressive ruler"
of the Ldhtaws occupied the Jaw Man Jaw Hkang, which
may be a strip of Naga land in north-eastern Assam, or
the hills east of the Mali hka, up to then held by Burmans
and Chins ; (3) the " far-spreading " Ldhpai ruled the large
Tawn Singkawng district, probably identical with the
Singkawng Hills in the Hkahku country ; (4) the " verdant
and growing " father of the N-Hkums, held sway in the
Tsit ga, the green country, or as some pronounce it, Tsin ga,
the cool, pleasant land, probably the Kamhti valley ; and (5)
the "first" of the Mdrans ruled the Gumshu Gumwa,
the sugarcane district, a tract of land still bearing that
name in the Hkahku hills. If our identification is in
any way correct, it is plain that we here deal with conditions
as they existed two and a half or three centuries ago. We
can feel fairly sure that just about this must have been the
colouring of the Kachin map at that time.
What we can learn from our three landmarks may now
be summed up in a few words. For centuries the Jinghpaw
families had been living on the border land between Assam,
China and northern Burma. When they first occupied that
territory is mere conjecture. There they lived and multi-
plied, always eager to break through the wall and occupy
the land further south. But the, " naturally level mountain "
cannot be located here, and^we must look still further
18 THE KACHINS.
north for the birth-place of the race. This must be sought
among the highlands of Mongolia, and on the border
land of eastern Tibet and western Szchuan. Here stood the
cradle not only of the Kachins, but also of the Burmans and
other Mongolian tribes. At a remote period the Burmans
began to move south and laid the foundation of mighty
kingdoms. Later smaller tribes like the Chins, Nagas,
Lahus and possibly Karens followed in the wake, our Kachins
holding a central position.) The Naga tribes following
the Patkoi range settled down among these high hills, grad-
ually taking possession of more and more of the Yoma
range where the Burmans were only periodically strong.
The Lahus and Karens keeping to the east of the Salween,
seem to have been permitted to move peacefully southward.
But the Jinghpaws in the centre, aiming for more valuable
acquisitions, were for a long time kept back by the strong
Shan rulers in Assam and Yunnan. They were compelled
to live in the land of the "four rivers" until opportunity
again presented itself for the new advance. It is from this
period that our traditions and stories mainly date. As
the Yunnan Shans lost their grip and the Ahom kings
became weak, the Kachins began to move. They carried
with them the memories of their second home, and through
them ring a few faint echoes of a still earlier date and home.
But it is from the time of their second advance that we can
follow their movements with a certain amount of precision
The name Kachin. If we could tell with certainty how
and when the name Kachin originated, there would be at
least one fixed point in their history. But unfortunately
this is not possible. We can be sure of this only, that it is a
Burmese appellation, not known in either Assam or China,
but in use in Upper Burma early in the last century. The
well known traveler and missionary Dr. Kincaid, in the year
1837, come in contact with the " Ka Khyens" around
Mogaung, being under the impression that " they are of the
same race as the Karens." As already stated all Kachins
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 19
call themselves Jinghpaw, but just as the Tai race be-
came known as Shan, the Braginyaw tribes as Karens,
the Jinghpaws were called Kachin. The Shans and Palaungs
call them Hkang, the same name the Kachins give to the
Chins, an opprobrious term indicating mixed race and
parentage. The Chinese call them Ye Jein, wild men,
which in Kachin becomes Yawyin and is applied to the
Lishaws. The Burmans must have had their first informa-
tion regarding the advancing Kachins from the Shans
and Chinese. In some way they coined the term in accord-
ance with the names employed by them. The Hkang of the
Shan and the Jein of the Chinese may for short have become
Hka Khyen, or Ka Khyen, which seems to have been the
earliest way of pronouncing and spelling the word. This
again has been simplified to our "Kachin." This seems
to me the simplest and most natural explanation. The
meaning proposed that we have in the name the Burmese
words for sour ( 9 ^>) and bitter (^) is possible, but not at all
probable. If this is the etymology, then we have in this
name a reference to the savage state of the rude moun-
taineers. A theory advanced by some Kachins is that
we have in the word a combination of the Kachin and
Burmese words for basket (ka and %t> hkyin). Thus there
would be a reference to the fact that a Kachin is never seen
on the road without carrying a basket. This is probably as
good a derivation as any other, but no better. My own
preference is for the first explanation, as the most natural
and the most likely. The word Jinghpaw, which is the
racial name, is sometimes used in the sense of man (homo),
but this meaning is now almost lost, even in the antiquated
religious language, where another term has been introduced.
But this is the word that should be used in addressing
the Kachins. This is recognized by all, while the term
Kachin, like the Shan word Hkang, and the Chinese Ye Jein,
is unknown by most, and resented by those that have given
any thought to its meaning.
20 THE KACHINS.
Migrations. Guided by the traditions referred to, and the
possibilities they suggest, we will be able to form an idea of
the Kachin conquest of northern Burma and adjacent
territory. We need go back about 250 or 300 years to
come in contact with the comparatively small groups of
Jinghpaw families as they break up from their mountain
homes around the great rivers to the north of the Kamhti,
where they have lived since their first advance from the
"Central Plain." They made themselve felt among the
northern Shans and to this day the Kamhti and Assam
Shans speak Kachin, while few of the southern Shans
can boast this accomplishment. More than once they
attacked Sadiya during the reign of the later Ahom kings ;
they proved useful allies to the Burmans, who at the begin-
ning of the late century entered Assam through the Patkoi
pass and helped to overthrow the Ahom kingdom. Before
that time detachments of them had been in the service
of the Ahom kings. At other times they would be on
unfriendly terms with the Shans and there would be fierce
raiding and fighting on the Assam frontier. But the Jing-
hpaws never gained a strong foot-hold in Assam, and thus
they turned south and east, overrunning the Kamhti valley,
and crossing the Patkoi range, practically exterminated
the Hukong population. Only a few Shans remain there
to this day, all of them subjects to the Kachins. This
happened probably about two hundred years ago. Having
obtained a foot-hold, the conquest of the whole region
between the Kamhti and Hukong valleys, as far south as to
the Mogaung river, followed in due time. The Shans
and Burmans were driven out, and only the ruins of their
pagodas, the trees planted around their monastaries, and
the names of their villages remained to tell the story of
fierce fighting and wholesale slaughter. A few were
captured and held as slaves, but all that could fled south for
protection among their kinsmen. Having advanced as
far south as the Mogaung and Katha districts, they encoun-
tered more organized resistance and found further progress in
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 21
that direction impossible. They consequently turned east
and looked for new conquest among the hills on the other
side of the Irrawaddy. Crossing the river north of Myit-
kyina they soon became masters of the whole country between
the Irrawaddy and the Salween, except that they were
unable to hold the valleys ruled by the Chinese. The La,
Shan, Palaung and Chinese hill-population receded further
and further south, and most of the villages remain on
the old sites of the Tai people. The rich Shan valleys
became tributaries to the mountain chiefs, and had it
not been for the British occupation many of them would
have shared the fate of the Hukong.
When the main body of the Jinghpaws left their home
north of the Kamhti and took possession of the country
west of the Irrawaddy, smaller detachments, mostly repre-
sented by the Mdrus, forced their way southward between
the Mali and Nmai rivers. But they were never strong
enough to gain much headway south of the Nmai. It
was only after their kinsmen, the Jinghpaws, had crossed
the Irrawaddy and become powerful enough to invade
the region north of the Taiping that the MSrus could
seek new homes. They pushed down along the Chinese
frontier and many of them settled among the Jinghpaws.
Thus we find Mru villages and communities scattered
all over the hills. While of the same parent stock as
the Jinghpaws they show in their speech a remarkable
relationship to the Burmese. In customs and religion they
are, however, true Kachins, with some peculiarities of their
own. A large number of them came under the influence of
the strong Lalipai family and by intermarriage a new
clan grew up, the Atsi. These developed a new dialect and
some of their customs differ somewhat from both Jinghpaw
and M^ru, but in the main they are true Kachins. Their
speech, as is natural, is very closely related to the Mru.
Through the Atsis, by intermarriage with the MSrans,
and probably Chinese, came the Lashis, the youngest of
the distinct divisions, unless the Susans be so regarded,
22 THE KACHINS.
which, as already indicated, seems unnecessary. The
L3shi shows in his dialect his MS.ru parentage, but in
certain other respects gives evidence of the more modern
conditions under which he has grown up. Thus the Mru,
Atsi and L5shi are practically the same people, and their
dialects are only modifications of the same language. As it
is only by the help of their stronger kinsmen that they have
been able to secure territory, they have always, so to speak,
been kept to the backwoods, and are thus less civilized and
if possible more superstitious than the regular Jinghpaws.
Relation between Mdru and Burmese. While the MSrus,
or as they call themselves, the Lawng Waw, belong to the
Jinghpaw family, the marked similarity between the MSru
dialects (including Atsi and LSshi) to the Burmese indicates
an interesting condition in early history. It is questionable,
however, if their dialects taken as a whole stand any nearer
Burmese than does Jinghpaw. One fourth of the roots
are identical in Jinghpaw and Burmese; grammar and
constructions are practically the same. It is doubtful if
more than this can be said of the M3.ru group. Still the
fact that quite a number of their words retain the Burman
ring, where Jinghpaw has adopted new terms or changed
the old so as to be almost unrecognizable, indicates a closer
relationship in the distant past between the MSrus and
Burmans than between the Jinghpaws and Burmans. The
earliest home of all the tribes of Burma was no doubt
the same. The Burmans were the first to push south.
They were probably followed by the Lahus and the
Karens. Centuries later they were followed by Chins,
Nagas, Jinghpaws and M&rus. The Chins and Jinghpaws
kept to the west of the Irrawaddy, while the M&rus came
down on the east side, where they came in contact with
such Burmese settlements as had been able to maintain
themselves north of the Nmai. But the more aggressive
and numerous Burmans soon left their weaker brethren and
pushed on to more promising fields. Then in the course of
time northern Burma came under Shan influence. The
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 23
Shan kings of Tali and Assam kept the Mrus and Jing-
hpaws in the territory already indicated. The Jinghpaws
to the west were more in touch with the outside world than
the now isolated MSrus. While the latter retained some
early characteristics of speech, they ran easily into brogues
among their lonely hills and valleys. The Jinghpaws in
touch with the larger life modified their speech, but
maintained the unity of their dialect. Thus when the
day came for a new advance south, the Jinghpaws had
the advantage of the larger and more liberal training,
and being united by a common dialect, were in a position
where they could act with unity of purpose.
Territorial Divisions. If our story of the Kachins, as we
have outlined it in the foregoing pages, is anywhere nearly
correct, it takes on an historical character(from the day
they began their second advance, leaving their homes at
the head- waters of the Irrawaddy, forcing their way into
Assam, Burma and Yunnan. What movements there were
before that time from a region still further north we can
only conjecture?) The territorial distribution of the families
today indicates the position they held two or three centuries
ago. But changes were constantly taking place during the
time the Kachins were independent and at liberty to acquire
new territory by conquest. As we take a glance at the
Kachin map of today we find in the far north-east the
Nungs (Hka Nungs, as they are called by the Shans). They
are a degenerate branch of a once strong and intelligent
tribe. Many of them are slaves to the Kamhti Shans,
and their general appearance is low, cringing and savage.
To the west of them we have the Singhpos of Assam.
They are in all essentials one with their kinsmen further
north and south, but lacking in some of their stronger
qualities. They exhibit both in speeeh and customs- a strong
Shan influence, and a few of them have accepted a form
of Buddhism while still retaining many of their own
religious practices. Still moving south we meet the Hkahkus
along the west bank of the Irrawaddy. The Hukong
24 THE KACHINS.
Kachins, of which the Susans have departed most widely
from the parent stock, are closely related to them. South
of these we come in contact with the main body of the race
in the Myitkyina, Bhamo, Mogaung and Katha districts.
In the Southern Shan States they hold the hills and goodly
numbers are found in the Ruby Mines district.
As it often happens that the conquerors are intellectually
conquered by their subjects, so to a certain extent it has
happened here. The Kachins that remained on the west
side of the Irrawaddy developed localisms in their speech,
and many of them, as in the Hukong and Kamhti valleys,
became strongely influenced by the Shans as to customs
and religion. In many villages are found Buddhist shrines,
and the old remains of pagodas and monastaries are kept
" sacred " for fear of the spirits having their abode in them.
Even their own nat-worship has been modified under the
influence of Buddhist teaching. This is especially true
of the Assam Kachins and those of the Hukong. The more
isolated communities in the Hills also developed some special
characteristics and peculiarities in dialect. Those along the
west bank of the Irrawaddy in time became known as
the Hkahku people, that is the "up-river people." Their
dialect differs somewhat from ordinary Kachin, (Jinghpaw),
but they are true Kachins and adhere strictly to the ances-
tral customs and traditions. As time passed on a great
number of sectional names grew up, but the original family
names and the identity of the ruling families have always
been maintained. On the east of the Irrawaddy the Jing-
hpaw dialect has remained remarkably pure, and the old
customs and traditions have been everywhere followed.
It is only of late years that Shan influence has been felt
in the northern Shan States and in Chinese territory.
The demarcation of the sections occupied by the five
ruling families is difficult, as they are represented in all
parts of the country. It is, however, of importance only as
it helps us to follow their early line of advance. In those
days the chiefs of the same family would act together in
THE ORIGIN OF THE KACHINS. 25
offensive and defensive warfare, but in time they separated
and established themselves wherever there was an oppor-
tunity. But scattered as they are, it is possible to some
extent to outline their early conquests and settlements.
That the present situation does not in all particulars con-
form to the traditional divisions of the land that we have
already considered, is just what we would expect.
The Mdrips are found mostly on the west of the Irrawaddy.
Their territory is, broadly speaking, the Hukong valley,
the district around the jade mines, and parts of the Hkahku
hills. Their first conquest is apparently the Hukong.
Scattered families are today found in the whole of the
Kachin land. This may be true of any family that we may
The Ldhtaws have several villages in the Hukong. They
are strong on both sides of the Irrawaddy north of the
confluence. They are well represented in the Myitkyina
district, and are numerous in some parts of Bhamo and
North Hsenwi circles. They are more widely scattered than
the Mdrips and are next to the Lahpais the most numerous.
The Ldhpai family is by far the largest and strongest
of them all. They are found in the Mogaung district and to
the east of Myitkyina. All the Atsis along the whole
Chinese frontier, from Sadon to Kutkai and Lashio are ruled
by Ldhpai chiefs. The Gauri villages east of Bhamo are
held by them, while after a short break filled in with the
M&rans, we meet them again in the Hpunggan and Gra
hills. Smaller groups are encountered in the Southern Shan
States and almost anywhere among the hills.
The Nhkums are scattered all along the Chinese frontier.
They are probably the weakest of the five ruling families.
They have a number of villages in the Mogaung district,
some east of Bhamo, and are fairly numerous in North
Hsenwi, particularity in the Mong Baw circle. Their
earliest home seems to have been west of the Irrawaddy
around the Kamhti valley.
26 THE KACHINS.
The Mdrans, like the Ahkums, are very much scattered.
They are found around Sinbo, Mogaung and Katha. South-
east of Bhamo the S&na and Laika groups have M&ran
chiefs, and the Laikas again appear along the Salween in the
Northern Shan States. In the Mong Myit circle and down
'towards the Ruby Mines they are also found. They are
in some respects the most refined and intelligent of all
the Kachins, except some of the leading families in the
THE KACHIN DIALECTS.
Dialects beginning with localisms and provincialisms
grow up easily in savage and primitive conditions. All
that is needed is to confine a group of families within
an environment where contact with the outside world is
small or none at all, and within a few generations we
have a new dialect. In Asia as well as in other parts of the
world, illiterate and backward districts show peculiarities of
speech in nearly every village and community. It is the
written page, the common school and the daily press
that gradually eliminate localisms and dialectical differences.
Still we know with what tenacity local dialects maintain
themselves even amidst modern conditions. Within the
British Isles we have Irish and Welsh, and until quite
recently Cornish, while in Germany we speak of High
and Low German, not to mention the great number of
provincialisms, some of them of marked peculiarities.
Among the Kachins the same tendencies have been at work
with the usual results. But the fact that we have different
dialects to deal with, does not work the same hardships
with the Kachin student, as among the Karens or Chins,
where often villages quite close to each other do not
understand each others' dialect and have no means of
inter-communication. Among the Kachins the leading dia-
lect, Jinghpaw, is understood by nearly all from the borders
of Tibet to the extreme south. It is only some of the
M&rus and Atsis, that either do not speak Jinghpaw at all,
or know it very imperfectly. Kachins are as a rule good
linguists and many of them speak five or six dialects fluently.
Dialects. The Kachin dialects worthy of special attention
are, the Jinghpaw, Mdru, Atsi, Ldshi and Nung. Such
localisms as Hkahku, Gauri, and Sdsan represent only
28 THE KACHINS.
special conditions, and need not be called different forms
of speech. These five dialects, and if we so wish, their
localisms, comprise with the Burman, Naga and Chin group,
the Burman family of the Turanian or Polytonic class of
J languages. In their earliest form they were strictly
monosyllabic and polytonic. Most of them are now in
their agglutinative state, and in the process of development
/ show a tendency to dispense with the tones. In Jinghpaw
about one fourth of the vocabulary is still monosyllabic, the
\ rest is mainly dissyllabic.
Grammar. The grammar of all the Kachin dialects
agrees in the main with the Burmese and that of the
Burmese family. At least one-fourth of the roots are
identical. Constructions and idioms are practically the
same. Now that the Jinghpaw has taken on a literary form,
it will like Burmese dispense with the tones more and more.
The instances where the tones are now of importance will be
obviated in various ways, and the meaning will be made
clear by the use of new combinations of words rather than
by inflections. Declension and conjugations are in Jinghpaw
""expressed by an elaborate system of noun and verbal parti-
cles. There are still traces in Burmese of a similar system.
Some of the Kachin groups, like the Gauri, have a tendency
to drop some of the verbal particles, and as the Jinghpaw
develops the general trend will be to dispense with most
of these rather troublesome adjuncts. We have already
mentioned the marked similarity between M3.ru, Atsi,
LSshi and Burmese. This extends both to grammar and
vocabulary. I am convinced, however, that when we go
far enough back we will find the Jinghpaw as closely related
to the leading language of Burma as is the Mru group.
So far only the surface similarity has had any attention.
We must go deeper before we can give the final verdict.
Outside Influences. We would naturally expect that such
highly developed languages as Chinese, Burmese and Shan,
would have contributed largely to the Kachin vocabulary.
But such is not the case. The Jinghpaw dialect is remark-
THE KACHIN DIALECTS. 29
ably pure, and has a vocabulary of at least fifteen thousand
words, which is quite sufficient for all ordinary requirements.
Very few Chinese terms have been incorporated, although the
Kachins for centuries have been in close contact with their
powerful and intelligent neighbours. It is almost exclusively
the Gauris that have borrowed a few words, and in their
pronunciation, especially in the gutterals, betray a Chinese
influence. The Burmans have never exerted any marked
leadership in any direction, and never came in friendly
contact with the Kachins. They ruled the hills only
nominally, and there was little intercourse between what
was usually two hostile camps. Very few words have
found their way from Burmese into Kachin. Since Kachin
schools have been opened, and Burmese text-books are
used, a few religious terms have gained admittance from
this source, but it has been found that in most cases
these can be replaced by pure Kachin words.
Shan has, however, contributed more both to vocabulary
and general ways of thinking than either Chinese or
Burmese. A glance at the dictionary will at once reveal
^the indebtedness of the Kachins to the Shans. A large
number of words, expressions and idioms in constant
use are taken from the Shan. They have through long
usage been ingrafted into and become a part of the Kachin
stock. It is also noticeable that while very few Kachins
(apart from those that have attended school), speak the
Burmese with any degree of fluency, most Kachin men
of the Northern Shan States and also in other parts of
Kachin-land speak Shan with ease. This is not because
Shan is easier than Burmese or because the two dialects
are particularly related. Burmese is philologically nearer
Kachin than Shan and the tones present difficulties to
the Kachin ear. But all the hill-tribes have had more to
do with the Shans than with the Burmans, and it furnishes
another illustration of how a conquered people with a
higher form of civilization will in time put its mark on
30 THE KACHINS.
Jinghpaw the leading dialect. Among the Kachin dialects
the Jinghpaw is in every particular the leading form of
speech. Atsis, LSshis and MSrus as a rule speak Jinghpaw
fluently, being troubled only in the pronunciation of certain
words. The Atsis for example connot give the r sound
but soften it down to y. But these peculiarities are of small
importance. The fact that there is one leading dialect
all over Kachin-land is an immense advantage to all. The
Jinghpaw has for about twenty years been reduced to
writing and has the beginning of a literature. It is not
likely that any of the other dialects will be thus honored,
and from an educational point of view it is not desirable
or necessary. In time all will learn to read and write
Jinghpaw, and the less important dialects will be relegated
to obscurity and be eventually forgotten.
The Mdru group. The MSru, and its daughters Atsi
and LSshi, have not sprung directly from the Jinghpaw, but
come from the same source. The M3.ru may be spoken
by about 25,000 or 30,000, and the Atsi by a few thousands
more, while the Lashi represents a number smaller than the
MSrus. But our information is very uncertain as to
these particulars. We have already advanced the theory
that the reason Jinghpaw has departed, at least in appear-
ance, more widely from the original than the Mini, is
because of its closer contact with the outward world. The
MSrus and kindreds are lower in the scale of civilization,
because of their more isolated life. Still, in saying this
we wish again to remind the student that we are merely
speaking from outward appearances. If ever an exhaustive
study is made of these dialects we will probably be called
upon to reverse some of our opinions regarding them. From
such studies as I have been able to make, I am quite
convinced that these dialects are not any more closely
related to Burmese than is Jinghpaw.
Vocabulary. The "meagre" vocabulary of Kachin has
often been a subject of remark. But the fact is that the
meagreness has been with our knowledge rather than with
THE KACHIN DIALECTS. 31
the vocabulary. As already stated the language certainly
has fifteen thousand words, and few men make use of such
a word-list in English. Many of these words are obsolete,
or nearly so, for every day use and have been relegated
to the religious formulas known only to the old men,
the priests and the professional story-tellers. But they
are still recognized as a part of the language, and will
again be found useful as the literary work advances and
new ideas demand new terms. We may find it hard to
explain how an illiterate mountain people could have
retained so large a vocabulary, but we have other instances
to show that backward races have had a much larger
supply of both words and ideas than has generally been
Relations to other groups. Some of the philological ques-
tions raised by the study of these dialects are decidedly
interesting. The relation between the Kachin and Naga
dialects indicates a close affinity, and the same holds true of
Kachin and the Chin group. The dialect of the Lkai
Chins to the north-west of the Hukong valley may be
regarded as a branch of Kachin, but they call themselves
Chins, (Hkang). The further south we go among the Chin
tribes, the more marked become the dialectical differences,
but similarity of both vocabulary and grammar, not to
mention customs and religion, prove beyond a doubt their
close relationship. They no doubt came from the same
northern regions. The Kachins and Karens have always
claimed relationship, and some of the Karen traditions
clearly prove that on their way south they became familiar
with the country around Bhamo. Their customs, traditions
and religious ceremonies are to a large extent identical.
But in language the Karen belongs to the Chinese rather
than the Burman side of the family. Many of the roots are
the same, but tones and grammatical constructions compel
us to classify Karen with Shan and Chinese. A compre-
hensive study of the sixty or more different dialects of
Yunnan and the large number in the Southern Shan
32 THE KACHINS.
States and Karen-land has not been undertaken. Valuable
vocabularies are found especially in the Upper Burma
Gazetteer, but much remains to be done before we are
able to assign each dialect to its proper group, family
The Source. The close relationship between the Kachin
and Burman group of dialects, suggests a common source
and origin. The Kachin dialects have however, not grown
out of Burmese. The question is where to look for the
original mother-tongue. Burmese is not the daughter of
either Tibetan or Chinese. It is the sister of both. The
families of languages represented by the names, Chinese,
Tibetan and Burmese are the descendants of some Mongo-
lian mother-speech, probably long ago buried and forgotten.
We can only hope that as we learn more of the civilization
that once existed in Mongolia and adjacent countries some
voice from the past will help us to a satisfactory solution
of this obscure problem. In naming the class of language
to which Burmese and Kachin belong I still prefer the
name Turanian. The name Polytonic cannot be referred to
all the groups and dialects involved as some of them have
long ago ceased to be tonal. Turanian or " Mongolian "
are names in which this large family of languages can
be included. I venture to present a list of the leading
families and groups, even though I am fully aware that
it is far from exhaustive.
A Group of Maru villagers.
A group of Maru villagers.
c c l ,
I < . '
>. ' I
THE KACHIN DIALECTS.
Shan or Tai,
Mon |P al . aun g'
Annam K lamg ' \
^ \ Khamu.
[ Burmese, *
Naga < Lotha,
Chm J Saushi,
In Western Yunnan are
supposed to be found over
Northern and Southern Shan
have many differences.
Mosho^ Some of those dia-
Wa I lects show a close
La \ relationship to Bur-
Hkun / mese, others to
Anka \ Shan.
The Sasan or Hkauri need
not be regarded as different
dialects; they are practi-
COUNTRY, VILLAGE AND HOME.
The ancestral home of the Kachins was, according to
tradition, a high table-land far to the north. Their present
territory is a wild mountain country intersected by narrow
valleys and deep gorges, through which flow numerous
mountain streams. These are all tributaries to the great
rivers, the Irrawaddy and the Salween. The ranges run
mostly north and south. They rise all the way from one
thousand to seven or eight thousand feet above sea-level ;
but the average altitude is between four and five thousand.
Peaks above eight thousand feet are few, and only one
or two attain the height of ten or twelve thousand. Small
valleys, that in former ages were the beds of mountain
lakes, are quite numerous, but extensive plains are found
only in the Irrawaddy basin and along its main tributaries.
Of these the Tdnai hka (the Chindwin), drains the Hukong
valley, the largest low-land settlement among the Kachins.
The Mogaung river flows partly through Kachin land,
but its banks and plains are inhabited mostly by Shans
and Burmans. The Taiping goes through the Gauri hills,
emptying into lowlands occupied by Shans, Burmans and a
few Chinese. Along the romantic Salween Kachins hold
the west bank for a considerable stretch. On the east
bank different kinds of Shans and Palaungs live among
the high rugged hills. The picturesque and magnificent
river with its superb and in many places unsurpassed
scenery drains a comparatively narrow strip of territory,
probably nowhere exceeding one hundred and fifty miles in
width. This barrier is the natural boundary to the east,
and the difficulty of fording the river even during the
dry season probably had a great deal to do with the fact
36 THE KACHINS.
that few Kachins gained a foot-hold on its eastern bank.
The great rivers are fed by hundreds of smaller streams,
many of which, especially during the rains, become wild
mountain torrents most dangerous to ford. Beautiful scenery
is found everywhere. A few of the waterfalls can stand
comparison with some of wider reputation. Of these we
can mention only the Namhpa fall near Sinlum, east of
Bhamo; the Gumlau fall north-east of Sima, and the
Npa fall half way between Bhamo and Shwego.
Fauna. The animal life of the mountains in the whole
of northern Burma is with only a few variations the same
as that of the plains. Elephants and rhinoceros are not
now found above the foot-hills, but tradition claims that
both these pachyderms were once common at higher
elevations, and some affirm that they are still to be seen
in some of the dense jungles along the Sal ween. Herds
of elephants are still found in the Hukong and many of
the chiefs in the valley are in possession of valuable rhinoc-
eros' horn testifying to the existence of the animal in
that vicinity. The tiger and the leopard, with many smaller
species of the Felida, are distressingly abundant, and in
many localities on the increase, as the inhabitants have been
practically disarmed. Wild dogs hunt in packs, but seldom
trouble the villages. Smaller kinds of carnivora make
the keeping of fowls and pigs an anxious problem. Bison is
now and then seen in the hills, but is generally confined
to the low-lands. Wild hogs, deer and monkeys give
the cultivators a lively time, being with difficulty kept
out of the fields. Squirrels, badgers, porcupines, weasels,
rabbits and numerous species of rats present a variety
for the curry pot. The pangolin or ant-eater is not
unknown. Otter is found in almost any stream. Bears
are in some localities as much feared as tigers and seem
to be more often in evidence. Bats are numerous, especially
in some of the caves which abound in the hillsides.
Of small birds the hills present a greater variety than
the plains, and all furnish meat for the table. During the
COUNTRY, VILLAGE AND HOME. 37
cool season nearly every Kachin carries his bow and
clay-pellets for the shooting of small birds, but the de-
struction is not great. Pheasants, peacock, jungle-fowl,
pigeons, quail, ducks and geese tempt the more ambitious
hunter, but our Kachin is not a success for this kind of
game. Birds of prey are a constant menace to the poultry,
and necessitate eternal vigilance. Hawks of all kinds
are constantly about, and now and then an eagle will carry
off a small pig. The cuckoo and the lark remind the
European of home. The cuckoo sings from the middle
of March to the end of May. The song of the lark in
the Northern Shan States is as clear and sweet as that
of the European species. Other singing birds are quite
numerous, and during the beautiful spring mornings the
wooded hills are alive with song and songsters. The
horn-bill is sacred to the Kachins. Cranes and herons
visit the valleys, especially during the cool season. Wood-
peckers and paroquets, often with gorgeous plumage, are
always an interesting sight.
Among the reptiles the hamadryad is the most feared.
A small viper called the pu htum figures in Kachin tradition
as having caused the death of the "nine brothers" who
indirectly caused the deluge. Not knowing which was head
or tail they were all killed by the careless handling of
the snake. The python is eaten, and "python-gall" is a
very valuable medicine. Snakes are numerous, but poisonous
varieties seem to be few. Of lizards there are various kinds,
and the chameleon holds a prominent place as the " serpent "
in the Kachin story of Eden.
Flora. The vegetation among the lower hills is semi-
tropical; at higher altitudes we meet trees and flowers
familiar to a temperate climate. The pine grows freely
in certain parts of North Hsenwi. Species of oak and
birch, and a number of trees with beautiful flowers, of
which the bauhinna is the most noted, give the hillsides
a rich and variegated appearance. Beautiful orchids, of
which the Dendrobium family is the best known, have
38 THE KACHINS.
brought the hillmen many a rupee. It is to be regretted
that the ignorant greed which has indiscriminately brought
every plant, young and old, to the market, has practically
exterminated the more valuable species within British
Burma. Most of the orchids shipped from Bhamo, or
coming by the way of Namhkam, have been collected
within Chinese territory.
Rubber was formerly abundant in the Hukong, but the
trees are rapidly being killed, as the Kachins extract every
drop of sap that can be had from top to root. Of fruit
trees we have the apple (a kind of crab), pear, plum,
cherry, peach, quince, walnut and chestnut. But all the
varieties, except the walnut, are of very inferior quality.
The attempts that have been made to introduce European
fruits have not been successful. The heavy rainfall is
detrimental to the development of the trees. Raspberries
and wild strawberries grow above an elevation of 2,500
feet. Home vegetables do well as a rule especially during
the cool season. Maize and potatoes are cultivated more
and more and with good success. As the climate is moder-
ate the Kachin hills could without difficulty support a
European population. The heat is not greater than in
South Africa, or in the southern parts of the United States.
The soil as a rule is rich, and with proper methods of
cultivation would yield richer harvests than the crude ways
of our hillmen make possible.
The Village. Formerly every village site was chosen with
a view to protection from an attacking enemy. Tribal
feuds and intestine warfare belonged to the order of the
day, and it was necessary for the chief and his subjects
to perch their homes in the most inaccessible places. The
villages as a rule were large and far between. But this
is rapidly being changed as a result of the peaceful life
under the British administration. The once large villages
are breaking up and small communities settle wherever it is
most convenient. Many of the modern villages exhibit but
few of the characteristics of the former life.
COUNTRY, VILLAGE AND HOME. 39
The typical Kachin village is approached by a long,
wooded, often picturesque entrance called mashang. On
each side of the road are placed a certain number of short,
hewn or squared posts (Idban), covered with rude pictures
of grain, weapons, household articles and ornaments. These
are "prayer-posts." The figures represent such things as
are most desired and valuable to the community, and as the
providing " spirits " have their place just beyond, they are
thus constantly reminded of the communal need and wishes.
Having passed the prayer-posts, we find, usually under some
tall and venerable trees, a number of altars, "shrines,"
and shelf-like structures, to which are tied innumerable
bamboo sections wrapped up in large leaves. These things
are sacred to the spirits (nats), the divinities worshipped by
the chief as representative of the village. Conspicuous
is, as a rule, an enclosure dedicated to the spirit of the earth,
(shddip), where special offerings are made on important
occasions. There are often stretched across the road bam-
boo splits tied together so as to make a long line, on which
are hung numerous star-shaped bamboo ornaments. This
is to keep off spirits that cause cholera, small-pox, cattle
disease or the like. Larger communities usually build a
small hut, or house without walls, in this place, in which
annual harvest sacrifices are offered. Otherwise it is not
used. In the "good old days" the village entrance was
not only a place where religious ceremonies were performed,
but often presented scenes of quite a different character. In
case of a blood-feud, or if the payment of a debt had
been unduly delayed, the aggrieved party would try to force
a speedy settlement by taking possession of the " grove,"
and from there direct their operations towards the village.
They might drive a certain number of pegs into the ground
vowing to tie a cow or a pig from the offending village to
each one before they left, if an agreement could not be
reached. They would kill pigs and fowls and in every way
harass the unfortunate village until their demands were
40 THE KACHINS.
granted. This interesting way of collecting a debt now be-
longs to the past within British territory.
Having passed the village entrance, there is usually a
short distance before the village, or only some of the houses,
suddenly emerges out of the jungle. A large village
covers a considerable area, as the houses are built far apart
for safety in case of fire. They are perched on narrow
ridges, or hung on the steep hill-side with the jungle close at
hand. The house of the chief (htingnu), as a rule occupies
the most desirable locality and is the most typical, even
though they are all built on the same pattern. In front
of the "palace," and in fact before every other house,
we notice a curious collection of shrines and altars similar
to those passed at the entrance. These are altars and
religious emblems dedicated to the household spirits, the
supernatural guardians of the family. No one may interfere
with these insignia of worship. They are all receptacles of
the various kinds of offerings, and are kept intact to remind
the spirits that they are constantly remembered. The
initiated can easily tell to what kind of a spirit a certain
altar is dedicated. There are usually two kinds representing
the household nats, two for the celestial spirits, and one
or more kind for the spirit of the earth. The high structures
to the celestial spirits (mu and sinlap), are always con-
spicuous. A low altar, by the side of which is seen a tall
bamboo pole from which are suspended rude representations
of the sun and the crescent moon made of bamboo sheets,
remind us that the " spirits " ruling these luminaries are here
invoked. A large number of St. Andrew's crosses testify
to the number of cattle that have in the course of time been
sacrificed for the good of the family. If the community
can boast of a "prophet" or medium (myithoi), a high
scaffold-like structure ascended by a tall bamboo ladder
will tell the tale. In this the " prophet " receives his inspira-
tion and makes known the will of the supernatural agencies.
Outside, or usually in front of the "palace," we as a
rule notice a circular excavation. This is a dancing-floor,
COUNTRY, VILLAGE AND HOME. 41
where a great religious dance is given whenever the chief
feels called upon to give the entertainment, and is able
to defray the expenses. In the Northern Shan States a
a small shrine dedicated to a spirit called Shaming (Kachin
Jdhtung), is often found near the village entrance. But this
is an adaptation from the Shan and is never seen except
where Shan influence is strong. (Comp. Chap. XIII ; para.
The home. Having passed the long lane which is a part
of the village entrance and the place dedicated to the house-
hold nats, we enter the house of the chief. It may be
longer and wider than those of his subjects, but plan, style
and arrangement is the same in all. There is first a
covered front without a floor where paddy is pounded,
and where on a low platform towards the high side of
the hill, wood, farming implements, baskets and the like
are kept. Passing through this front there is the stable,
covered and closely walled in, where cattle and horses
are kept. After this cattle-pen or stable we reach the front
steps, usually one or more notched posts, supported by a
tall post the upper end of which is carved into the shape of
a sword. We ascend to a narrow verandah about two
or three feet wide, which serves as a roosting place for the
fowls and a " store-room " where food is kept for the pigs.
Pushing open the narrow, creaking door, we have on
one side a long room for general use, and on the opposite
the maidens' apartment (nla dap) where the young people
can meet and amuse themselves. The Kachins hardly ever
speak of rooms. The house is divided into certain number
of " fire-places ; " these may be walled off or not, but each
represents an apartment or room. Groping our way
through the darkness, as there are never any windows,
we reach the men's "fire-place," where consultations are
held and strangers are entertained. This is always situated
on the side towards the rise of the hill, or else on the right,
and opposite are the family apartments. These consist
of a room for each married family, and one for the old
42 THE KACHINS.
people. Above the chief fire-place is the sacred corner,
with a shelf -like "altar" dedicated to the family spirits.
Tresspasses in this place are especially resented, and care
should be taken not to touch or handle the religious
emblems that may be close at hand. Passing the " spirit-
place" (nat ra), we reach the back door which leads to
a raised verandah and the back steps. There are never
more than two regular doors, one at each end. In very
long houses a low side-door may be found near the main
fire-place, but this is not common. To have a long house is
a sign of wealth and prosperity, and is a much coveted
honor. Houses one hundred and fifty feet long are not
uncommon, and some of the chiefs can boast a "palace"
two hundred, or even two-hundred and fifty feet in length.
Such a house is the home of a large number of families.
Formerly each slave-family would have its own apartment,
and then there would be a number of families belonging
to the household. The space allotted to each was not large,
but quite sufficient.
The houses are built on piles about three feet from the
ground. The space below is walled in for the hogs and
fowls. The Kachin dwelling is not as light and airy as
the Shan and Burman, but much more substantial, and
admirably adapted for a comparatively cool climate. Dur-
ing the day the people live and work out of doors, but
at night several fires give heat and light. The smoke finds
its way out anyway it can, and thus the whole inside
becomes black and shining with soot. House-cleaning is
practically unknown, and the bamboo floor allows dirt of
all kind to fall down and accumulate below. When a
dwelling gets too old, that is when it has stood seven or
eight years, and has become too much inhabited for comfort,
a simple remedy is to put fire to it and build a new one. If
the head of the family dies, the widow and children will not
as a rule consent to live in the house where he expired. It
is either torn down or left to stand empty, and a new house
is put up. Timber and bamboo are cheap and a house can
COUNTRY, VILLAGE AND HOME. 43
be put up in a few days. Accidents by fire are not very
common, but if a house does burn the loss as a rule is
not very great.
A stranger must never enter a house for the first time
by the back door. Both the first entrance and exit should
be by the front door. Having once gone in and out through
the main door he can come and go as he pleases, only he
must always go out the same way he came in. If there
is a fence around the house, clothing, saddles or the like
must not be hung on it, nor must anything be placed along
the eaves. Not to observe these and similar rules, the
guardian spirits will be offended, and even though they may
not do anything to the ignorant offender, they will surely
punish the unfortunate inhabitants for allowing such
House-building is a communal affair, always in evidence
during the cool season. It is made a time of festivity as
well as of work. The owner will get out the timber,
and when all is ready, the village people are called together
by the beating of drums, gongs and cymbals. Men, women
and children join in the work. The old men prepare bamboo
splits for tying purposes, as no nails are used, The women
cut and carry the thatch, and attend to the cooking depart-
ment. The young men do all the heavy work and the
children make themselves generally useful. The whole
house may be put up in a single day, and it hardly ever takes
more than two. But whether the house is finished or
not, the " house- warning " (ningshawn shang), when the
family and the guardian spirits take possession of the
new dwelling, takes place, as a rule, on the evening of
the first day. A priest recites his blessings, exhorting the
spirits to fill the new place with prosperity and abundance.
New fire obtained by rubbing two pieces of bamboo together
is lighted at the principle fire-place. A generous feast is
provided. A great deal of rice and curry, and above all, of
native whisky is consumed. Laborers are not paid, but the
" lord of the house " must supply all with food and drink.
44 THE KACHINS.
Towards evening of a house-building day there is always an
animated crowd, doing a great deal of talking and yelling,
but very little work. All are more or less hilarious because
of liberal imbibing. Quarrels, ending in a fight, are not
uncommon on such occasions. But generally it is a good-
natured crowd and the quarelling and screaming does not
mean very much.
APPEARANCE AND DRESS.
The Kachins have been described as "very dirty with
a repulsive type of countenance." That most of them
are dirty, and some of them very much so, admits of no
controversy, but their " type of countenance " is generally
far from " repulsive." Washing is not a religious duty with
most mountain people. Water has to be carried great
distances often over steep mountain paths. During the dry
season it is usually scarce, and must be used for more
important purposes than bathing. In the cold weather
there is small inducement to have a dip in a rushing moun-
tain stream, as most Kachins declare it will give them fever,
which is no doubt true. During the rains when they spend
most of their time in the paddy-fields, where water is
abundant, they often have a wash. When clean and
properly dressed, both men and women compare quite
favorably with either Shans or Burmans.
Physiognomy. It is difficult to say what is the general
Kachin type, his particular cast and expression of counte-
nance. All shades and types may be grouped together
in the same community. The Mongol or Tartar origin
cannot be doubted; but there has been a great deal of
intermixture in days gone by, and climatic conditions have
had their usual effect. Even among our rude Kachins
blood will tell. The members of the ruling families are
generally more refined and intelligent looking than those
of the average " commoners," and their features are much
more regular. It is quite easy to tell them in any gathering.
Well to do families will allow a few extra luxuries, and
being more in touch with the outside world, will betray
refinement and "good breeding" above the ordinary.
46 THE KACHINS.
Chiefs and other rich men formerly had among their
wives Shan and Burman women, and the children of such
unions would show their mixed parentage. The general
type, however, is the short round face, low, often narrow
forehead, high cheek-bones, oblique and widely separated
dull eyes of the usual oriental complexion, broad nose, thick
protruding lips and broad, square chin. The color of the
skin may vary from almost negro black to the sallow tint of
the northern Chinaman; but the ordinary shade is dark
brownish. Many are found with complexion and features
remarkably like the American Indians, while others might
almost hail from southern Europe. This great diversity
is best accounted for by intermarriages with neighbouring
races, which formerly was much more common than now,
and from climatic conditions.
The men, generally speaking, do not look strong or
vigorous. Their average height is about five feet and four
inches; but some measure close to six feet and present
a fine physique. The women are somewhat smaller, but
most of them are strongly built, and they are able to endure
a great deal of hardship. The fact that the women work
harder than the men has contributed to their physical
development. Many of the men live a life of comparative
idleness, spending their time in opium smoking, sleeping
and drinking native liquor, complaining of all kinds of
ailments. With care and proper habits the Kachins would
be a strong race capable of a great deal of hard work
and natural development.
Men's dress. Among the men there is no uniformity
as to material worn, or the particular cut of coat and
trousers. Nearly everything they wear is bought in the
Shan, Chinese and Burman bazaars, and styles and shades
vary accordingly. They buy whatever they can afford,
which may mean an indigo colored suit worth a rupee and
a half, or a cotton-padded Shan jacket representing a larger
outlay. The Hkahku men have probably kept closest to the
ancestral way of dressing. They wear a long, narrow,
APPEARANCE AND DRESS. 47
variegated turban, leaving the high top-not in view, a blue
coat with long, wide sleeves, and a towel-like loin-cloth
coming down to the knees. Among the southern Kachins,
especially east of the Irrawaddy, the loin-cloth has given
place to Shan or Chinese trousers. The turban, the pride of
the men, varies according to means and surroundings.
A long white turban worn in Chinese fashion is the rage
among the Gauris, while south-east of Bhamo and near the
Shan States they are all very partial to the silk head-wear
of the Burmans.
Sword and bag. The only articles common to the men of
to-day is the long, useful sword and the equally indispensi-
ble bag or haversack. No man is ever seen without
these necessities. The true Kachin sword is now rarely
seen south of Myitkyina and Mogaung. The Shan article is
in common use. The bags are elaborately embroidered,
and the different patterns indicate the taste and fancies of
different communities. Thus we have the Hkahku, Gauri,
M&ru and Jinghpaw bags, each with peculiarities of its own.
They often display a considerable amount of ornament, and
young men carry a richly embroidered " towel " tied to the
shoulder-strap, always the gift of some young women, and
worn for her sake.
Women's dress. There is more uniformity among the
women in regard to dress than among the men. They still
make by hand nearly everything they wear. The only
difference in style is such as is necessitated by climate.
The women in the Hukong valley and generally on the
west side of the Irrawaddy, wear a simpler and more com-
fortable dress than their sisters living at higher altitudes.
The dress of the genuine hill woman is quite elaborate,
picturesque and expensive. The married women put on a
tall, folded head-dress of blue cloth ; unmarried women and
young girls go bare-headed, having their hair trimmed so
as to hang down as " bangs," or in fringe-fashion. In the
lobes of their ears they put long silver tubes with long
fringes of red felt-cloth hanging down in front. In the
48 THE KACHINS.
Amber-mines district the silver tube is replaced by long,
candle-shaped pieces of clear amber of considerable value.
From the upper portion of the ear, lappets or inlaid silver
plates, fringed with embroidery and short tassels of beads,
complete the head ornaments. Around the neck are hung
several silver torques, and strings of amber, glass or por-
celain beads. Beads, especially those made of petrified wood
found in the amber district, are often family heirlooms
highly prized. The wives and daughters of wealthy chiefs
have a great deal of "jewelery" of this inartistic kind.
Really valuable stones or gold and silver ornaments of an
artistic nature are seldom seen. The jackets are short, with
or without sleeves. The regulation jacket with long sleeves
is generally elaborately decorated with embroidery, porce-
lain buttons, silver clasps and cloth of bright red or green.
A row of silver discs or buttons go around the neck ; a cross
of porcelain buttons ornaments the back, and bands of red or
green finish off the cuffs. The making of such a jacket
requires some skill. The skirt is short, barely reaching below
the knees. It is skillfully embroidered, many of the pat-
terns being both artistic and effective. The Kachin woman is
second to none in Burma when its comes to artistic weaving
and embroidery. The skirt is put on so as to be folded at
the right side, and is held in place by a large number of
cane rings. The wearing of these rings, sometimes over a
hundred, together with narrow bands covered with cowries,
and lacquered bands of various designs, is peculiar to the
Kachin women. The Palaung women put on a certain
number of such rings, but not nearly as many as the Kachin.
The Hkahku women and those that live on and near the
plains, find such an abundance of finery too heavy and
cumbersome, and prefer a few simple rings or a sash or a
band. During the cold weather leggings are worn held on
by a number of fine rattan rings. Some of the men put on
Shan or Chinese shoes, but women never allow themselves
such luxuries. Finger rings of silver are quite common, but
gold is rare, and in many localities practically unknown.
J > J J
o . j
APPEARANCE AND DRESS. 49
Those that live near the Shan bazaar may put on the
heavy bracelets worn by the Shan women, or a cheaper
kind made by the Chinese, but this is only for the more
well to do.
A special holiday dress is not the fashion, but on great
occasions, as when there is a dance (mnau), or at some
specially important weddings, the more wealthy women and
the young girls of the leading families will appear in beauti-
fully embroidered skirts not otherwise worn ; old men will
turn out in long silk coats of Chinese pattern; but it is
seldom an opportunity is given to see a crowd in such attire.
Take it all through, the Kachins are well dressed when at
Many of the men never change their garments. When a
new coat or a new pair of trousers is needed, they are
bought in the bazaar and put on then and there over the
old, which will drop off by degrees. Children up to four or
five years of age are scantily dressed. Many of them wear
only a string around the waist, and another string serves
as a necklace, from which is suspended several silver and
copper coins, often to the value of several rupees. These
are charms for protection or to insure good luck. A great
deal of coined silver is plugged and wasted in this way.
We would suggest that they use the money and buy clothing
for the children, but to the Kachin this does not seem to be
CHARACTERISTICS, HABITS AND CUSTOMS.
Everyone acquainted with the hill tribes of upper Burma
is impressed with the independence of the Kachins. This
must not all be put down to ignorance or lack of refine-
ment, even though they have no fixed form of salutation,
and no words for " please " or " thank you." There are
polite and impolite ways of speaking, but they do not
approach the extremes of the Chinese, nor do they voice
the humility of the Burmese. Even the most powerful
chief is approached without the kneeling and cringing so
marked among Shans and Burmans. There is a proper way
to present a case, or introduce a conversation, and certain
points of "etiquette" must be observed, but the chief is
subject to the same rules when dealing with his people.
This absence of formality, and this bearing of equality, is
the natural result of a long life of freedom. They have
never been slaves, and were never tributary to anyone.
The Chinese and Burmans never in reality ruled the hills.
The Kachin chief taxed the Burmans and Shans on the
plains, imposed duty or blackmail on every trader or cara-
van that passed through his territory, and raided whenever
he thought he had a cause or felt inclined. Without paying
an annual tribute no Shan or Burman village could exist
where the hillmen were within striking distance. The peo-
ple along the large rivers would often sleep in boats when
they had reason to fear a raid, and large communities like
Bhamo and Sawadi were attacked and sacked more than
once. Thus the Kachin regarded himself lord of all he
surveyed, and held both Burmans and Shans in contempt.
" You fire a prairie or kill a Shan just for the sake of doing
it," is one of his proverbs that indicates his estimate of his
52 THE KACHINS.
neighbours. The chief, while nominally the head of the
community, is very often a mere figure-head. One of the
"elders," or someone more than ordinarily resourceful, is
the real leader. Besides, any individual in trouble, if i not
satisfied with the decision of chief and elder, can always
take the law into his own hands. If he and his party are
strong enough they can dictate their own terms. A Kachin
has a keen sense of his personal rights. He resents any-
thing that interferes with his liberty, or what he regards as
his due. He does not know how to take defeat gracefully,
and never forgets or forgives an injury or wrong.
Revengeful. This characteristic is at the bottom of the
large number of feuds which in former times kept families
and communities in continual strife. Our Kachin is re-
vengeful, but not cruel, and he ought not to be called
treacherous. He is capable of fidelity and has his sense of
honor. He regards it his duty to avenge every wrong done
him or his family. In the case of a murder there is a blood-
feud ; if his women are wronged there is a fine to be
exacted ; if his cattle are hurt, or his fields are interfered
with, there must be a reprisal or a settlement. If the
offending party accepts the terms imposed, peace is declared
and nothing more will be said or done. But if the opposite
is the result there must be a fight to the finish. A feud for
three, five or seven generations may be declared. A man
may take a vow that he will not put on a turban until he
has satisfied vengeance. In such cases children and grand-
children must avenge their fathers. When a feud is on they
are not particular as to methods, so long as they secure
success. With them " all is fair in love and war," and if
the enemy can be punished without loss to themselves so
much the better. It is this trait that has given the Kachins
the reputation of being treacherous.
A feud always becomes a family or tribal affair. All
connected in any way whatsoever with the contending
parties become involved. This has naturally led to strange
miscarriage of justice, and from our point of view, cruel
CHARACTERISTICS, HABITS AND CUSTOMS. 53
injustice more than once. When the Kachins first came in
contact with Europeans, they found it difficult in criminal
cases to understand our point of view. If one of their men
had been killed or robbed, say in Bhamo, the whole city
became involved, and the relatives would take vengeance
on anyone coming from that community, even though the
victim may never have heard of the case. Years may have
elapsed and the deed forgotten by all except the avenging
spirits, the relatives. There was of course a reason even
for so arbitrary a law. They knew that if a man was killed
in a place like Bhamo, there would not be one chance in a
hundred that the murderer would be handed over to Kachin
justice, and thus to teach a lesson the first individual from
that community that happened along would have to pay
the penalty. Some Chinamen from Bhamo were once killed
by a Kachin chief, because of a murder committed years
before by a Burman. A party of missionaries were attacked
and robbed in the Gauri hills for some imagined wrong
held to the account of a British expedition sent into Yunnan
nearly twenty years before. If the British rule should be
withdrawn it would be impossible for a white man or native
of India to pass through the hills without serious trouble.
They would remember all killed in a fight or imprisoned,
and the first " foreigner " coming along would have to pay
the " price of blood." The logic of this may not appeal to
us, but it is not so very long ago since similar " laws " were
enforced both in Europe and America.
Reserved. The numerous feuds, and the chance of always
meeting an individual or party with which his family had
an unsettled dispute, made a Kachin suspicious and reserved.
They never gave correct information to strangers regarding
their business and whereabouts. Thisi trait often aroused
comment, and our friends have been called " awful
liars." They do not always tell the truth, but they are not
habitual liars. It is again their point of view slightly
different from ours. When a European asks a Kachin whom
he meets on the road, " Where do you come from ? "he is
54 THE KACHINS.
sure to get the correct information ; but the same question
by an unknown countryman would elicit an evasion. In the
first case there would be no danger in telling the truth, in
the second case their might be. When entering a village,
if our first questions concern the number of houses or
the amount of paddy harvested, even the most truth-loving
Kachin will prevaricate. This is not because of his love of
lying, but he cannot see why this should interest a stranger,
or he may suspect that you are an official on inspection
with a view to increased taxation. But when we really
know the Kachin and have gained his confidence, we realize
that he is an interesting individual, intensely human, in
most particulars very much like ourselves, loving a good
story and a good time and seeing the point of a joke as
readily as anyone.
Honesty. Taken as a whole the Kachins are remarkably
honest. There is little stealing among themselves. Kachin
servants can, as a rule, be trusted. The thief in the olden
time was either killed or sold as a slave. This had a
most salutary effect, which unfortunately is beginning to
wear away. In the matter of " owning up," a man put
to the, test may consult his convenience ; but as a regular
thing they will tell the truth, or you will know what is the
truth if you know how to make due allowances and
Hospitality, Every stranger stopping over night in a
Kachin village is sure of his food and lodging. The chief is
in duty bound to entertain all visitors, or if he is not able
to do it, one of the "elders" must do the honors. The
guest receives it not as a favor, but as an established right
A visitor may stay a number of days and nothing is thought
of it. As a rule, however, they do not impose on the
host and take no undue liberties. The host is responsible
for the good behaviour of a stranger as long as he remains,
and must do his utmost to find and punish him in case
he has committed an offense. To refuse entertainment
CHARACTERISTICS, HABITS AND CUSTOMS. 55
(mdnam daw,) would be regarded a grave insult and might
lead to a feud.
Personal habits. Men, women and children chew betel-
nut, tobacco, cutch, lime, and several kinds of narcotic
leaves that they grow or pick in the jungle. It is a
filthy habit, and it makes havoc with their teeth. The
common excuse for chewing is that if they do not do it
the "mouth will smell." All drink the native whiskey or
beer and eat malted rice. Those that can afford it get
the distilled liquor from the native bazaars. Ordinarily
the people do not drink to excess. They call their " brew "
by various poetic names, such as " heavenly sweat," or
" milk from Chya'nun " (the mother of all Kachins), and
use it constantly. But it is only at the great festivals,
at the time of house-building and when special sacrifices are
offered, that moderation is discarded and drunken orgies
are the rule. Inebriates and habitual drunkards are found,
and during the cool season when a number of " feasts " call
the crowds together a great deal of liquor is consumed;
but during the rest of the year scarcity if nothing else keeps
most of them sober. Practically all of the men and some of
the womed smoke tobacco, which they raise themselves. In
some localities the use of opium both for chewing and
smoking is on the increase. This is greatly to be regretted.
In the Northern Shan States the poppy is extensively
cultivated, and the use of the drug is assuming alarming
proportions. The result will be greater poverty than ever.
A Kachin is always disinclined to work and relegates all the
drudgery to the women. Once under the influence of opium
he rapidly becomes a worthless and hopeless burden.
His one aim in life will be to satisfy his depraved appetite,
and to secure his opium he will do almost anything.
Very few have moral strength enough to give up the
habit once it has a hold on them. (Comp. Chap. VI.
Food. A Kachin is rather particular about his food. He
can make a meal from almost anything that grows
56 THE KACHINS.
in the jungle, but is much more fastidious in regard to
his flesh-pot. He never touches flesh of the feline family.
Killing a tiger, he will smoke and dry the meat to sell
it to the Burmans. They use it for medicine, and the
Chinese utilize the bones for the same purpose. Dogs
are eaten only by the M5rus, who are despised on account
of it. The python is the only snake dished up for curry, and
monkey is relished only in certain localities. Crows and
hawks are seldom eaten, but nearly every other kind of
bird is regarded as fit for food. Fish of every kind is
accepted. Cattle that have died by disease are rarely eaten,
nor is blood of killed animals used at all. In preparing
and handling the food they are very careful. They never
touch the boiled rice with their bare hands. They always
use ladles or leaves singed and half dried when dishing
up the meal. No one need hesitate to partake of a dish of
There are a good many rules and superstitions as to
food and drink. Some water or liquor is always poured
on the ground as a libation to the " spirits " before drinking.
Children must not eat eggs, or their feet will not grow.
Honey or porcupine flesh must not be given to a pregnant
woman, as it will cause miscarriage. Green pumpkins
cause liver-trouble, no doubt true! Tiger's heart makes
a man ferocious, and should be eaten during war time to
arouse courage. Anyone eating pig's tail will be slow;
eating food intended for a person who has just died will
make one forgetful. If children eat the liver of the mole,
they will be indifferent to parents and relatives. If a
man eats crows he will be nervous and frightened; if
he eats the wing of a fowl his skill will be onesided.
Eating the meat from the head of a cow, misfortune in
cattle-dealing will be the result. If women eat the entrails
of fowls, their yarn will be snarled while weaving. These
are only a few of the pleasantries along this line.
Customs. Social customs and rules of " etiquette " differ
somewhat in different localities. Many of the Gauries have
CHARACTERISTICS, HABITS AND CUSTOMS. 57
adopted the Chinese way of bowing, and a few strongly
influenced by Shans and Burmans will show courtesy in their
peculiar ways; but these are exceptional cases, the true
Kachin customs still being the standard. A Kachin will,
to the general observer, look rude and unrefined, but he has
his code of morals and conduct and rules of etiquette.
The acknowledged form of introduction and friendly
interchange of courtesies is by exchanging betel-nut boxes.
This being done conversation will flow freely. Absolute
strangers are introduced by their family names, and they
are asked to help themselves from the box or from a
bamboo filled with liquor. In general conversation one
rarely hears anything foul, smutty or objectionable. They
are not ordinarily given to low talk. The language is rich
in euphemisms and most delicate subjects can be discussed
in a natural manner.
The family relations are all that we can expect. Infi-
delity within the married state is not common, and a
divorce is next to impossible. (See the chapter on Marriage
Ceremonies). The young people are, however, allowed too
great freedom, and this has led to the worst side of their
customs. But, as we will point out in a later chapter,
we must not judge them entirely from our standards of
morality. Wife-beating is allowed, but it is not common.
Children grow up without much care, and the parents hare
very little control over them. Old age is highly respected,
and the old people are well taken care of.
Many are quick-tempered, and "swearing" is quite
common by both men and women. If anything goes wrong
it is likely to bring an oath to their lips. The usual forms
of imprecation are: "May the nats (spirits) bite you;"
" May tigers maul you," " May lightning strike you," " May
you die by accident," "May your women die in confine-
ment." Foul terms of abuse are not lacking in a heated
quarrel; but as a rule there is very little quarelling,
and one seldom sees a fight among them, except when they
are under the influence of liquor.
58 THE KACHINS.
Some of the rules observed in "good society" are the
following : Visitors, as has already been told, must always
enter a house for the first time by the front door, and
depart the same way. A man must never pass behind,
but always in front of another ; this because a man always
carries a sword and may attack from behind. Women may
pass behind a man, or if passing in front must bend low
and gather their skirts so they do not touch anyone.
On the road a woman must always carry a basket and
follow behind the man. A gift must be presented and
accepted by holding out both hands. To use only one
indicates pride and disrespect. One must not eat in the
presence of visitors or strangers without first asking their
permission, nor must anyone leave a house or a place
without first asking, " May I (or we) go " ? The host or the
party addressed will then say, " Go," and liberty is given to
depart. There are quite a number of "farewell" expres-
sions wishing one a happy journey, and those that depart
express the hope that those remaining behind may have
a pleasant time and be satisfied alone. No one may enter
the family compartments in the house of a stranger without
special permission. The host must offer visitors and guests
the best the house can afford. Theirs is the place of honor
at the chief fire-place, and they may be asked to regard
the house as their own.
Meeting strangers on the road one must never ask,
"Are you well?" (Kdja nni?) This form of salutation,
which has become customary when Europeans address
Kachins, implies acquaintance and familiarity, not tolerated
except between friends and relatives. In the good old days
a stranger unfamiliar with Kachin ways would be imprison-
ed and fined if using this form of salutation when meeting
persons he had never seen before. It is perfectly proper to
ask anyone on the road, " Who are you ? " " Where do you
come from?" " What do you carry ?" " Where are you going ?"
or the like. Only after being properly introduced (sh achy en)
is it permissible to enquire as to the health and welfare
CHARACTERISTICS, HABITS AND CUSTOMS. 59
of the individual and his family. These rules are violated
constantly by Europeans not familiar with the intricacies of
Kachin ways and customs. The hillmen, however, take
it good-naturedly, because they cannot do anything else,
and most of them understand that the "bad form" of
the white man is due to the fact that he does not know
any better !
GOVERNMENT AND LAW.
The Kachin form of government comes in its conception
nearest to the patriarchal, and in its everyday working
to the communistic. Practically each village, large or small,
has its own headman or chief, who with the help of the
"elders" manages the affairs of the community. Here
and there an unusually enterprising and aggressive chief
may have under him subordinate chiefs or headmen, but
this is the exception. Ordinarily each chief is quite inde-
pendent in his village or community. The chief belongs
to one of the five families of chieftains, (See Chap. I),
and he gathers around him such representatives from
the families of commoners as are drawn his way. These
can always leave the village if there are greater induce-
ments in different directions. The village and the inhabit-
ants may, for the sake of convenience, be called by
the family name of the chief, but there is no tribal or
family relation between them. When we speak about a
M3ran or LShpai village, we have in mind a community
ruled by a chief from one of these families ; but his subjects
may represent scores of ordinary families distributed all
over the country. The name of the chief is nothing to
them, their regular family name is what counts, especially in
their marriage relations. Nowadays when land is all taken
up and new conquest is impossible, there may be a number
of chiefs in the same village ; they may or may not share
in the government. A chief can never in theory become
a commoner, but in reality many of them have degener-
ated and lost their authority and even intermarried with
families of the common people.
yn the Hukong valley, and in some localities especially in
northern Kachin land, a number of communities are ruled
62 THE KACHINS.
by "rebel" (gumlau) chiefs. They represent a movement
of some forty years ago directed against the hereditary
(gumsa) chiefs, with a view to enable any man who could
secure a following to become leader, headman or chief.
The organization of these democratic communities does not
materially differ from the regular ancestral government.
The rebel chief has theoretically no authority to offer
to some of the great spirits, especially the madai, and
can thus never give a religious dance (manau) ; but having
usurped the power of the hereditary chief he may find some
way, if so inclined, to exercise his privileges. This move-
ment for independence is now at an end, as the British
Government recognizes the hereditary chiefs. Our concern
is also with the regular order of things as handed down
from ancestral times. ^
The Chief. In every community the man of first import-
ance is the chief (du wa). Not that he is always the ablest,
strongest or most influential individual there ; but he is
always regarded as the representative of the village. It is a
mistake, however, to call a Kachin chief a Sawbwa, a term
introduced from the Shan. He is, with very few exceptions,
nothing but a village headman with limited power. The
youngest son becomes chief after his father, and takes over
the old home. The older sons either seek a domain
of their own, or remain in the village with the title of
chief, but in most cases with none of its prerogatives.
Nowadays there is nothing for them to do but to remain
and make the best of it.
(*The authority of the chief, and his influence in the
community, depends entirely on his strength of character
and personal ability. If he is intelligent, aggressive and
enterprising, his rule will be practically autocratic. If weak,
'easy-going and indifferent, some-one of the "elders" will
be the real ruler, while he only carries the title. In days
gone by many of the chiefs never worked, but led a
lazy life, becoming slaves to whiskey, opium and other
vices. These men and their descendants are today very
GOVERNMENT AND LAW. 63
often the poorest and weakest in the community; their
old ways of livelihood have been taken away from them, and
they have not been able to adjust themselves to the more
exacting conditions. ^
Tribute to the chief consists in one or two baskets of
paddy a year from each household; certain days of labor
from the whole community at the time of planting and
harvest, and a hind-quarter of every animal killed as
a sacrifice or in hunting. Nowadays most chiefs find
it difficult to collect this moderate amount, as the people
are unwilling to pay taxes both to their own chiefs and
to the British Government. But in the glorious days gone
by the chief that could tax the lowlands and levy duty on
passing caravans lived in abundance. They grew rich and
important, could afford quite a harem where even Burman
and Shan women would be found ; they would have a large
number of slaves, ponies and herds of cattle. Many had
pretentious framed houses, often stockaded, built in Chinese
style. The villages they " protected " on the plains brought
them a handsome revenue, since protection always meant
that no one ^should have a right to fleece them but they
themselves. When all this was done away with by British
rule, no wonder the chief all of a sudden discovered that
he was the most destitute man in the village. Many of
them had few fields to fall back upon ; their herds were
soon depleted by the constant sacrifices; their slaves
ran away ; caravans could pass by their door without paying
as much as a handful of salt; Shans and Burmans, and
even their own people paid no attention to them any more.
It was a most radical change and the memory of it still
lingers. It is hard for the old chiefs to forget and forgive ;
they long for the day when the " Kala " will depart and the
ancestral glory be restored. We cannot blame them for
feeling as they do ; it is human nature, and there is a great
deal of this in the Kachin breast.
The Village Pleader.^ln some of the larger villages a
man of influence, called the bawmung, (a Shan word mean-
64 THE KACHINS.
ing the "father of the country"), is the real ruler. He is a
kind of " pleader," and is always a man of strong character
and personal force. In a community where this official
is found the chief has usually very little to say. The
bawmung is always a man of the people, and holds his
position solely because of superior ability, and what he
decides is generally accepted.}
Elders. Most communities have no bawmung, but there
are always two or more elders, " aldermen/' (sdlang), whom
the chief consults in all cases of importance. One of these
is recognized as the "big elder;" he is one of the oldest
and most experienced men in the community, and what he and
his associates decree generally becomes law. Only an
exceptionally strong chief would ever dare to oppose the
elders. In all matters of special importance or gravity
a council of the elders is called. Recognized leaders from
outside communities may also be consulted. This council
(salang bawng) is the Kachin highest court of justice, and
decisions there reached are final.
Religious Officials. The men attending to the religious
side of the community may or may not be directly concerned
with its civil affairs. They are ordinarily men of great
influence and leadership. The priest must be consulted in
every undertaking of any importance, and often he serves
as an elder. Still, their work must be viewed from
the religious side and properly belongs to the chapter on
religion and worship. (Comp. Chap. XIII ; para. Priesthood).
Property. All the land within the circle of the chief
nominally belongs to him. No outsider can settle down
in his village or obtain land without his permission. All
highland fields are allotted by him and personal ownership
is recognized only as long as they are cultivated. When
left, or allowed to grow up again into jungle, they again
become common property subject to the will of the chief.
This is almost ideal socialism. Lowland fields, requiring
more labor and care, belong, however, to the family that
first opened and cultivated them. They are handed down
GOVERNMENT AND LAW. 65
from father to son. But they cannot be sold without
the consent of the chief, nor can they be bought and
become the property of a man living in another community.
All the jungle surrounding the village is common property.
Anyone can take all the wood and timber he needs. Bam-
boo planted and fenced in, as well as fruit trees, are regarded
as personal property. Still there is nothing wrong if passers
by help themselves. Things grown within a garden must
be respected, but the rules are not nearly as strict as in
higher forms of civilization. The chief can allot land
to his subjects, but he cannot refuse anyone a field or a
garden. He cannot act arbitrarily in these matters, as he
is likely to be censured by the whole community, and
the injured party may declare a " grievance " resulting in a
feud and an appeal to arms.
Law. Custom and precedent as handed down by tradition
and interpreted by the chief and village council comprises
the recognized law. Each case is decided on its own merits,
but there are recognized rules to follow, and a generally
accepted scale of punishments or compensation. The old
Mosaic code of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an
eye does not satisfy the Kachin sense of justice. He
demands at least double for the harm done, and in most
cases five teeth for one. The general tendency is to squeeze
out of the offending party all that is possible. If the
accused is satisfied, or regards it useless to resist, the terms
imposed are accepted and peace is declared. But if he and
his party, which usually means his family, fieel strong
enough to refuse, there is likely to be a standing grievance,
or as it is expressed, a " debt/' which may lead to a feud. It
is in the settlement of these debts that the legal
ingenuity is exercised, and from which a Kachin gets
more excitement and enjoyment than from anything else.
The ordinary cases that come up for settlement are :
Theft, (lagu hka). It is customary to fine a thief double
the value of the goods stolen. If he has robbed a chief
he may be fined five-fold. Anyone assisting a thief, giving
66 THE KACHINS.
food and shelter or concealing stolen goods has also a " debt "
(shatjaw hka) to pay. In addition to the regular fine, cattle
or hogs for sacrificing to the offended spirits must be paid.
If the offender is poor and has nothing to pay, he may be
expelled from the village, sold as a slave, or even killed.
False charges for the sake of extortion are treated very
much as theft, and this " debt " (jdwat hka), may lead
to serious trouble. A Kachin is very sensitive and anything
like an insult, a false charge or insinuation, is deeply resent-
ed, and may easily lead to a prolonged quarrel ending in
A Loan, (hkoi shap hka). This is a very general and
hence not a serious offence, but decidedly difficult in settling.
A Kachin borrowing money or grain never thinks of the day
of payment. He regards it rather as a gift than as a loan.
He hates more than anything else to pay taxes, a fine or a
debt, and loves above everything else to get something for
nothing. To collect an old debt is an art that only a
few understand. It takes an immense amount of talking,
and incidentally a great deal of time, food and liquor is
consumed. But time is nothing to our friend, and if he
can get his board while talking a week or two about a two
rupee debt, he feels satisfied even if he does not succeed
in collecting the amount. He can come again the next year
and go through the same performance. The debtor is
equally satisfied if there is another delay, furnishing one
more chance not to pay at all.
Adultery, (num shaw). This is a serious, but not very
common offence. The man is always held guilty, and
under the ancestral law was killed, unless he was able to
pay a very heavy fine. Nowadays a fine, half that in
case of murder, is exacted. It is no use for the man to
plead that the woman made the first advances or was a
willing party. The "elders" will sum up the case in
accordance with the well known proverb, " If a Shan is
at fault he must die ; in a dispute with a Kachin he must
die ; if heaven is at fault the earth is drenched, if the earth
GOVERNMENT AND LAW. 67
is at fault it deserves to be drenched." This means that
in any case the man must pay the penalty. Rape on an
unmarried woman would be settled by a fine ; on a married
woman death, slavery or a very heavy fine used to be
the punishment. When a fine was sufficient, a bullock,
a gong, a sword, and almost anything else that could be
exacted, would be demanded. Nowadays cases of this kind
usually come before the British court within administered
Illegitimate children, (sumarai hka). A fine is always im-
posed on the father of a child born out of wedlock, varying
according to the ability of the family to pay. It is not
a serious matter, and on account of the great freedom
allowed the young people offences of this kind are extremely
common. The girl's family are to some extent disgraced,
and it means to them a financial loss, as an n-gyi kdnu
(the mother of a bastard) has not the same chance in
marriage as one with a more respectable record. The
birth of the child takes place in the home of the man,
but he must appease the spirits of the offended family. In
some localities a special fine is exacted if the girl dies in
confinement, but this is not an ordinary custom. The usual
articles, cattle, swords, gongs, fowls, etc., are offered in
compensation. The man is under no obligation to marry
the girl, and generally does not. As long as he has paid the
fine nothing more is thought of it.
Blood-money, (bunglat hka). Blood-money is demanded in
case of murder (si bunglat), when an employee is hurt
(hka la bunglat) or killed (Idsa bunglat), and, in some
localities, when an unmarried woman :dies in confinement
giving birth to an illegitimate child (ndaug bunglat).
Murder is the most serious of all offences and the ancestral
law was usually a life for a life. Gradually custom has
established a more practical way, and if the offender was
able and willing to pay, the case could be settled without
further bloodshed. But the demands were always heavy
and often far beyond the means of the murderer and his
68 THE KACHINS.
family. There might be requested, cowries or small silver
ornaments for each of the teeth and nails of the murdered
person ; swords or spears for the fingers ; guns for the arms ;
slaves or beasts of burden for the legs ; expensive gongs for
the head ; jars or pots for the abdomen ; besides cattle for
sacrificing to the "fates ;" and money to all particularly
concerned. Such a fine would amount to Rs. 300 or more,
and most families were never able to pay even if they
promised to do so. Hence there would arise a blood-feud
carried on generation after generation until vengeance was
satisfied. But the greatest number of feuds originated with
the offending party refusing to consider terms of settlement.
In that case it became a matter of honor for the aggrieved
family to execute vengance, and wipe out the disgrace and
dishonor to the family name.
When a man has been hurt or killed while working
for another, the employer's liability is recognized. A fine
will be fixed according to the nature of the case. If killed,
say, when clearing jungle or at housebuilding, the terms are
decided by the village council. It is never regarded as
murder or culpable homicide, but simply as an accident,
and the fine is light. If a man has been killed when on
a trading expedition for another, the employer is liable to a
fine, or he must find and punish the murderer, turning over
the amount received to the deceased man's family. If he is
unable to do either of these things, he may authorize the
relatives to execute vengeance at his expense. If an
employee dies a natural death, the employer pays only
a bullock for the funeral (jdhpu nga), a gong for the death
dance (kdbung bau), and a skirt or a piece of cloth for
the final ceremonies (mdjip nba).
Desertion and Elopement. If a man puts away his wife
he forfeits all he paid for her as a bride, and in addition
must pay the disgraced family a slave, a buffalo, a gong
and a sword, or a fixed sum of money. If a wife, without
good cause, runs away and returns home, her parents must
send her back to her husband. If they allow her to remain
GOVERNMENT AND LAW. 69
they must return the price paid for her with interest, or
a sister must take her place. If the parents do their utmost
to send her back, but she refuses for some good and
acknowledged reason, such as cruelty or neglect, there is no
blame on the parents and they do not refund the " price."
Elopement of unmarried people is very common, and
comes under the general rules related to marriage customs ;
(See Chap. IV.) This is not a serious matter and is settled
without much difficulty. Elopement with a married woman
is regarded as adultery and is treated accordingly.
Inheritance. The youngest son (uma, of a chief, hpung-
dim, of a commoner) remains in the old home and follows
in the succession of his father. The older sons receive a
share each of all portable property, and can remain in
the village or move away, as they like. If the husband
dies leaving grown children, the widow may go and live
with one of her sons or else she is taken over by one of
her husband's brothers, who then becomes responsible for
the family. Inheritance never goes to the female side of the
family. All disputes in regard to inheritance are taken up
and adjudicated by the village council.
General remarks. As 'a rule the decisions of the chief and
his advisers are just and equitable. Bribery is next to
impossible except in cases where a chief, pleader, or
elder is all powerful; but in the average community
all are on an almost equal standing, and to bribe a whole
council could not be done without detection. Moreover, the
parties concerned need not abide by the verdict if they
consider it unjust. They can always appeal to the public,
and if they can secure a following they can force a
reconsideration of the whole case. This is often done.
But in the last analysis the only recognized right is might.
If the defendent and his party consider themselves strong
enough to "fight it out," they will do so and it becomes
a question of who can hold out the longest. Thus in
the glorious days of old, which a Kachin, like most other
people, regards as the golden age, there was often war to the
70 THE KACHINS.
knife and the knife to the hilt. Feuds innumerable are
still on the list, and if the British power permitted there
would be the same kind of fighting within a very short time.
No case of importance is ever settled without a sacrifice.
The contending parties eat and drink together, dip their
swords in the blood, and take an oath that there is eternal
peace between them. The losing side always pays for the
feast, and there is a special bullock sacrificed by the winning
side (pddang nga), to announce the joyous fact that they
have been victorious.
Kachin industries are extremely few and of a most
primitive character. The whole population, from the chief
down, are practically tillers of the soil, and even in this they
show no particular skill, and their implements are the most
crude and simple. The fields are generally small, and
most of the work is done by the women. Few raise
enough grain to keep them supplied for the whole year.
Slavery. Formerly slavery was very common, and the
chiefs and the well-to-do had numerous slaves who did
most of their work. But the slave market has been closed
within administered territory, and slave labor there belongs
to the past. Prisoners of war, " witches," impecunious and
undesirable individuals and families, would be sold or
disposed of as slaves. Shans, Burmans and Chinamen
would be found among their number. Today it is only
in the Hukong valley, and among the Kachins in Chinese
territory that slavery is practiced on an extensive scale. In
the Hukong may still be seen representatives of the races
just mentioned, and also a few from the Assamese tea-
gardens, kidnapped by Nagas and Chins and sold to the
wealthy slave owners in the rich valley. In that district
there seems to be no particular disgrace in being a slave,
and no attempt is made to conceal the fact. But in other
parts of Kachinland every one resents being called a slave.
Ordinarily the bondmen were well treated ; in fact they
were regarded, and looked upon themselves, as a part of the
family. A male slave could marry a free woman, but
the children became slaves. The owner could sell or give
them away, but they were seldom disposed of except when
exchanged in connection with a marriage. The price paid
for a bride included a slave, and her parents gave one as
72 THE KACHINS.
a part of the dowry. Refractory slaves would be beaten,
put in stocks, or as a last resort, sold. The worst would
be sold to the Chins who sometimes bought them for
their annual sacrifices. The most effective threat to an
unruly slave was this, "Do you wish to go to Chinland?"
which implied that unless he behaved he might become
a sacrifice to the Chin divinities. A slave could always
be redeemed. A usual method when prisoners of war had
been enslaved, was for relatives or friends to capture some
from the owner's side and thus force an exchange. It
will not be long before slavery will be extinct in all parts of
Agriculture. Farming in the hills consists mainly in
the wasteful and destructive forest denuding process of
jungle clearing. A piece of jungle is selected and all the
vegetation on the same is cut down in February and March,
and is allowed to dry to the end of April or middle part
of May. Then there is a tremendous blaze on the hill-side
and only the black stumps and a few big trees remain.
The ashes fertilize the ground and a good crop is generally
secured the first year. Less is expected the second year,
and it is seldom that a field is cultivated three seasons
in succession. After the second crop has been harvested
the jungle is allowed to grow up again and no clearing
is attempted for seven or eight years. But even with so
long a period of rest the land gets impoverished and the
jungle growth becomes less rapid. After a period of rotation
of this kind nothing will grow but thatch, and the jungle
fires sweeping over year by year will destroy all other plants
and struggling vegetation. On such land rice cultivation
is impossible. A certain amount of prairie cultivation
(hkai bang) is attempted along the foothills, but it is a very
uncertain crop and is often a failure. Large tracts of forest
land have, unfortunately, already been denuded, and it is only
a question of time when the whole hill-country will be
bare, unless the Government interferes. Before sowing, the
land is worked in a crude way with hoes, but nothing like
plowing is attempted. The sowing is done in the most
primitive way. The sower scratches the ground with a
dibble while he drops in the grain as he walks along.
The weeding of the fields occupies most of the rainy season
and is mostly done by women and children. Harvest comes
towards the end of October, threshing in November, and the
carrying home of the paddy is usually finished about the
middle of December. Threshing is done by the methods
employed in Egypt and Palestine in the days of Abraham.
The threshing floor is in the open, baffaloes tramp out
the grain and the winnowing is by the hand-shovel. The
straw is accounted of no value and is burned. In high-
land (yi) cultivation, hardly any rice is raised for the
market. In fact, there is seldom enough for home consump-
tion. During every rainy season many subsist on Indian
corn, millet, and whatever they can pick in the jungle.
Lowland (hkauna) cultivation, following the methods of
Shans and Chinese, is practiced mainly by the population
inhabiting the Hukong valley, the Northern Shan States and
the Gauri hills. Those who possess a certain amount of
valley cultivation are usually well off. There is still a great
deal of land that can be thus cultivated, and by scarping the
hillsides into terraces, utilizing the numerous mountain
streams, there would be a great addition of very productive
paddy-land. This form of cultivation ought from an econo-
mic point of vew to be especially encouraged by the Govern-
ment. In some parts of the hills, land formerly thus
cultivated has been allowed to grow up again into jungle,
on the plea that they have no buffaloes with which to
work the fields. Cattle disease and above all numerous
sacrifices to the spirits are responsible for this state of
things. It would be a blessing to the people if the Govern-
ment were to prohibit all sacrificing of cattle, even if it
should interfere with their religious liberties. They would
be better fed on account of it.
In addition to raising paddy, most villagers plant some
maize, millet, tobacco, beans and sessamum. Pumpkins
74 THE KACHINS.
and cucumbers are grown with the maize. In small gardens
they grow mustard leaves, yams and other kinds of vege-
tables for the curry. In some localities cotton, indigo, tea
and sugar-cane are cultivated on a small scale. Some
potatoes are raised, usually of a poor quality. But these
things are considered side issues, to fall back upon when the
rice crop has been a failure.
Opium. It is only quite recently that poppy cultivation
has found its way from China into Kachinland. In the
early experiment with the plant it was confined to small
enclosures near the houses. During recent years large
tracts of land have been put under cultivation, and this is
still on the increase. In North Hsenwi and in other
localities along the Chinese frontier the Kachins aim to
supply the Chinese market in western Yunnan, as the plant
has been prohibited in China. The use of opium both for
smoking and eating is alarmingly on the increase, to the
detriment of everything else. Even the rice fields are being
neglected, as opium brings in ready cash, which again is
squandered on the drug and in other ways. There can be
no doubt that the opium habit has a great deal to do with
the increasing poverty and moral and physical deterioration
of the Kachins. The working of the poppy field is carried
on in Chinese fashion. The ground is carefully worked.
When the poppy head reaches a certain size a slit is made
into it with a thin blade and the exuding sap, when dried, is
gathered on a metal scraper. The raw product is sold
to the Chinese or kept for home consumption. Many
Kachins smoke the drug mixed with shredded and dried
plantain leaves. The opium is liquified on a small copper
dish, and the leaves are saturated with the drug. Then
it is smoked in an ordinary pipe, a small pinch at a time.
But this way of indulging is getting too tame for most
consumers. They prefer the Chinese method, and the
eating of the drug is on the increase. In some northern
sections both men and women smoke, but generally the
women are not subject to the habit.
Trading. A Kachin is not a trader like a Shan or a
Chinaman. Natural inclination, distrust and illiteracy
stand in his way. Even in localities where they are regular
visitors to the Shan bazaars, they will attempt hardly
anything more than the making of a few annas by selling
garden stuff, native beer and some opium. They can hardly
ever bring fowls or pigs to the market, as they must be kept
for sacrificial purposes. A few will engage in caravan
trading, the stock in trade being salt, dried fish and tea
which they buy from the Palaungs. Of the conservation of
natural resources they have no idea. Rubber, lac and
orchids used to be indigenous to almost every part of
the country. But the rubber trade, even in the Hukong,
will soon be at an end because of the reckless way of
tapping the trees. In a similar way the marketable orchids
have also been exterminated, and are today found mostly
across the Chinese frontier. Each man thinks that he
better get out of it all he can; if he does not, someone
else will. There is no thought of tomorrow. As a trader
our friend is a failure. He cannot compete with Shans and
Burmans, and if he makes a venture he is likely to lose
his capital. He consequently finds it safer to shun specula-
tion and high finance, and conceal his silver in some
safe place in the jungle or under the house. Any other
bank he is not inclined to trust.
Mining. Gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, amber, jade and
marble, are found within Kachin territory. The famous
amber mines in the Hukong district are owned by Kachin
chiefs, but most of the work is done by adventurers from
Assam and China. The amber is of good quality, and was
formerly found in large quantities; but the output is
growing less year by year. The rich, and by the Chinese so
highly valued, jade mines north-east of Kamaing, also
belong to Kachin chiefs. All the heavy and dangerous
work in extracting the stone from the deep, hot mines
is done by Kachin coolies; but the trade is controlled by
Chinese and Burmese speculators. The population of the
76 THE KACHINS.
district does not particularly profit from the wealth of
their country, and seem to be more than ordinarily ignorant
Some gold-washing is done north of Myitkyina, in the
Hukong valley, and in the Northern Shan States. Gold-
bearing streams are found nearly everywhere. The gold is
of good quality, but comes in small quantities. North of the
confluence there must be a considerable supply of gold,
judging from the amount dredged and washed in the
Irrawaddy. The story is that the natives are afraid of
arousing the gold- thirst of the white man, and thus conceal
the place and bring only a moderate amount to the market.
Silver, copper and lead are found in various localities,
but the pits or mines are not worked. The Chinese
were formerly prospecting throughout this whole territory,
and worked in many places where there is now nothing but
dense jungle. The Kachins have no idea of how to melt
and work the ore, and the mineral resources, which are
no doubt considerable, remain to be developed.
Blacksmithing. Although every hill-man carries a sword
(the Burman dati), and stands in need of a hoe and dibble,
if not a plough-share, for his rice cultivation, a Kachin
blacksmith is a novelty. All his hardware comes from the
Chinese or Shans, except that some of the Hkahkus make,
what may be called, the genuine Kachin blades. These
are about eighteen inches long, broadening from the handle
outward. They are never pointed, as is the Shan dah.
There are at least four varieties, of which one with clear,
wavy streaks of steel running down the blade, is the
most valuable and appreciated. This sword was carried
especially by chiefs and persons of importance. They
are now hardly ever seen south of Myitkyina and Mogaung,
while only a few years ago they were not uncommon south
of Bhamo. The Shan product is cheaper, if not so durable,
and the Hkahkus do not come south, as they formerly
did, to dispose of their wares.
Hunting and fishing. Our hill-man is not a sportsman.
He is not an enthusiastic hunter; but with a good gun
in his hands he will soon find the sport interesting. During
the cool season, deer-hunting is engaged in, all the men
of the community turning out to drive the game from
its shelter into some open place where it is shot or speared.
This is done for the sake of food, and all that have had
a part in the chase receive a share. Trapping and snaring
are also known and pitfalls are dug for large game. Traps
and snares are set mostly for birds, and birdlime is also
used. Tigers and other large game are rarely hunted
unless it is a question of turning out after a man-eater
or rogue elephant. Very few good guns are found in
administred territory, and the stalking of dangerous game is
left wisely alone. Their swords, spears, bows and arrows
are not looked upon with the same confidence as when they
knew of no other weapons. Most of the guns are only
old flint-locks, worn out and uncertain ; and those fired with
percussion caps are only a shade better. Now and then
a good gun is seen, and some of the chiefs have breech-
loaders given them as presents from the Government;
but they find it difficult and expensive to procure ammuni-
tion, and the guns rust away in some corner of the house.
Naturally the Kachins know little about fishing. In
the deep pools of the swift mountain streams fish are always
plentiful, but they have no means of catching them. The
weighted hand-net, used by the Burmans in shallow water, is
unsuited for mountain streams, and any other kind of
net they do not know. Fishing baskets are used to some
extent, and a poisonous creeper, which they pound into pulp,
is employed in smaller streams. Pouring the liquid pulp
into the stream the fish are stupefied and come to the surface.
But the ordinary way of fishing in small streams is to divert
a part of the channel leaving the bed dry. Whatever is
stranded on the pebbles, or is fished out of the mud,
goes into the basket. It is mostly crabs, snails, mudfish
of various kinds (eel in particular), and small stone-suckers
that make up the catch.
78 THE KACHINS.
Weaving. The Kachin women are skilled in weaving and
embroidery; but their methods and implements are most
primative. They go through all the processes from spinning
the cotton with a hand spindle to turning out the finished
article. They know how to weave a number of patterns,
some of them very effective, all of them exhibiting both
skill, taste and patience. A weaving frame, such as the
Burman and Shan women use, is unknown. The warp is
held tight by means of two bars; the back bar is held
in place by pegs driven into the ground, and to the front one
is attached a broad leather belt which passes around the
weaver's back. The operator sits on the ground or on a
piece of board, her feet braced against a stout piece of
wood or bamboo. Instead of working the heddles with her
feet, she lifts them up with her hands, as she sends the
shuttle back and forth. It is a slow, tiresome process,
and weeks will be required for the finishing of a single
skirt. It is all done out of doors, and it keeps the women
busy from the middle of December to the end of March.
There are a few accepted and generally recognized patterns
and designs, but there is plenty of room for individual
fancy, taste and skill. Some of the patterns for the bags, all
of them woven, are really remarkable, and their work along
this line, as well as in their hand embroidery, is always
highly appreciated by Europeans.
The activity of the Kachin man does not arouse our
admiration ; they never hurt themselves by overwork, but
see to it that the women are fully occupied and do
not spend their time in leisure. It is hard to imagine a
harder worker than a Kachin women. She costs her liege
lord a neat sum when he marries her, and he regards it
his right to take it out of her in labor. Before it is
light she must be up and pound the paddy for the day.
A visitor to a mountain village will never forget the peculiar
sing-song grunts, groans and high-pitched tones that break
the stillness of the early morning hour as the young girls
begin the operation of pounding, husking and winnowing
the paddy. A large wooden mortar and a heavy pestle are
used to remove the husk, and the winnowing is done with a
large, round wicker tray. It is a most exacting and fatiguing
work. In many localities this back-breaking toil could be
eliminated by utilizing water power, but the Kachin never imi-
tates the skill of the Shans and the Palaungs in this particular.
Having finished the paddy pounding then comes the carrying
of water and the preparing of the morning meal, feeding
the pigs and getting ready for the day's work in the field or
at weaving. Water is often carried for nearly a quarter
of a mile up steep hill-sides. Long bamboo tubes are
used instead of buckets ; these are placed in wicker baskets,
carried on the back, the strap going across the top of
the head. It is remarkable what loads these women can
carry. In a few villages there is a rude attempt to lead
a mountain stream ; but usually such a labor-saving device
is not considered. Springs in deep ravines are preferred.
This is no doubt an advantage for the securing of good,
wholesome water, but it means many weary hours for
the hard working women. The picking, carrying and
cutting of the wood is also her work, and it takes a
good deal of her time. The wood is usually found in
old paddy fields and is carried great distances. It is no
uncommon thing to see a woman with her baby carried
in front, a heavy load of wood or a basket of rice on
her back, twirling a hand-spindle (hkdbang) as she trudges
up the steep mountain path. Besides, she does her share of
the work in the paddy field, sowing, planting or weeding.
That she has no time for her home and children is not
a surprise. In fact there is no word for home, and children
run wild from the time they can walk till they are big
enough for work.
It is no doubt the hard life of the women that is responsi-
ble for the large infant mortality in Kachin communities.
It is no uncommon thing to find families that have had
seven, eight, nine or more children of which only two or
three have grown up to maturity. Families with no child-
80 THE KACHINS.
ren, or where they have all died are often found. Deaf and
dumb, blind, deformed and half-witted children are seen
in almost every community. The hard life of the mother,
and the free, unrestrained life before marriage, is no doubt
largely to blame for these unfortunate conditions.
Baskets and mats. In common with all eastern peoples
a mat is about all a Kachin uses for his bed, and a basket
becomes an indispensible necessity in his daily life. He
is somewhat skilled in basket weaving, but his mats are not
equal to the products of Chinese or Burmese. Of baskets he
weaves several kinds, of which we will mention three
as particularly worthy of notice. First the wicker basket
(ka) with no ornaments and put together in a simple
manner. This is used for carrying wood and anything
else of a general nature ; bamboo tubes filled with water are
also carried in this particular pattern. When on the
road men always carry baskets of this kind. Women
use them only for wood, water and work around the house-
The regular woman's basket (skingnoi), is a neat and well
woven article useful in endless ways. A woman is hardly
ever seen on the road without this basket on her back
carried by a brow band. Paddy is always carried home
from the fields in these baskets, and all the woman's belong-
ings find a place in its capacious hold. A basket very well
made and rather expensive, called a "box" (sumpu),is used
as we would use a trunk or a chest of drawers. It is never
carried outside the house except when moving from one
place to another* It has a close-fitting cover, and serves
the purpose of a box quite well. Northern Kachins use
a covered basket, with a curved top and a " trap door "
(sawng-hpai) , resembling when carried the coracle of an
Irish fisherman. It is a most useful article as it is quite
waterproof and easy to carry. In their basket making very
little is done for the market. Most men know how to
supply their own need, but they attempt very little more.
Once in a while an old man makes basket weaving his
particular work, and then confines his work to making
of the woman's basket (shingnoi), and of the kind called
Mats are used in various ways, but so far as they are
made by the Kachins they are all of the cheap, ordinary
kind made of bamboo splits. The weaving of mats is not as
much an art with them as is basket weaving. Those
who can afford it usually buy the mats for sleeping and
bed in the Shan or Burman bazaars. The poorer people
have to get along with articles of their own manufacture.
WEAPONS AND WARFARE.
Kachin weapons are guns, cross-bow, spear and sword.
The sword has already been described (see Chap. VII.)
The spears are of different makes and shapes. The regular
Kachin spear is an unornamented point of steel with a shaft
five or six feet long. But spears of Chinese or Shan make
are frequently found. Some of these have double-edged
spear-heads, and some are single-edged. The heavy Chin
spear with its elaborate design of yak's hair is greatly
valued and most of the chiefs have several of them. In
days gone by a Kachin when travelling generally carried
his spear as well as his sword, but nowadays the former
weapon is seldom seen.
The cross-bow in the hands of a good " archer " or " shot "
is an effective weapon. It is from three to five feet in
span, and it is difficult for one not used to it to bend
the bow. The arrows are made of bamboo, sometimes
hardened in fire ; stone or metal tips are not used nowadays,
but formerly were not unknown. The Yawyins and the
L&shis very often poison their arrows with a kind of
strychnine obtained from the nightshade, but the Jinghpaws
seldom follow this practice.
Of guns several kinds are known and used. The most
common are the " cheek-gun " (sdhkun sdnat), the flint-lock
(myiba), and the cap-gun (htunghpau). The first may be
called the real Kachin gun, and is by far the most common.
It is a match-lock of Chinese and Shan make, fired with
hemp fuse soaked in saltpetre. The gun is very light,
with no butt and a very short revolver-shaped gunstock
which is held in the hand and pressed to the cheek. The
barrel is thin, and in most of the guns seen today with
a ragged muzzle. In a few years more these weapons will
84 THE KACHINS.
be a novelty, as new ones are never seen, and the making of
them has apparently ceased. Old flint-locks of various makes
are met with everywhere. They have found their way into
Kachinland from China, Assam or lower Burma. The
cap-guns are more highly valued than any others, but
the Government Arms Act makes it difficult to procure
ammunition. A few chiefs have jingal and swivel guns>
but they are becoming very rare. They belong more to
the Shans than to the Kachins.
The Kachins know how to "pound" powder. Sulphur
can be bought in any Shan bazaar from Chinese traders.
Saltpetre is extracted from the surface soil from old stables
or from under old houses. Charcoal any native can burn.
The powder obtained is very course and dirty, and a
large amount is required for a charge. Lead comes from
China or the Shan States and is sold in the bazaars, usually
four bars to the viss. It is beaten into bullets, or melted
and made into shot by letting the flowing metal drop
through the holes of a perforated tin placed over a bamboo
filled with a thick mixture of water and cow dung. It
is a primitive way to be sure, but it does the work. As
all the guns are muzzle-loaders, loading and priming are
done in the usual way, bits of rag or pieces of paper being
used for wads.
Kachin warfare is now a matter of the past, as far as British
Burma is concerned, but in the independent Shan States
and in Chinese territory he can still enjoy what may be
called the " national sport." Of warfare proper a hill-man
knows nothing, but he is a skilled raider, bushwhacker and
robber. Raids used to be his pastime, and a bit of fighting
broke the monotony of his lonely life. The merest pretext
would serve as a casus belli, and he went in for it with
the idea of doing all the damage he could to the enemy
while saving his own skin. The attacks came usually
at night just before the rise of the moon. Very little real
fighting was done and the blood-shed was never great.
There would be a quick rush for the nearest houses, if a
WEAPONS AND WARFARE. 85
village was attacked ; these would be set on fire, guns would
be fired, and amidst a great deal of shouting prisoners
and cattle would be led away, if the attack was successful.
A hasty retreat would be effected, and the path would
be made dangerous for the pursuers by the driving of sharp
bamboo spikes in such a way that they would cut and
pierce the feet of those who ventured to follow. These
spikes are justly dreaded, as they inflict a most dangerous
wound, and are almost invisible at night time.
Villages were never stockaded like the Shan or Burman ;
but some of the big chiefs used to have a high wall around
the " palace." In time of danger all the houses situated at
strategic points would be " fortified," and in stubborn fight-
ing, if driven out of one place, they would seek shelter in the
other. But the usual way of defence was to prepare some
kind of a stockade on the roads leading to the village. A
trench would be dug, trees put across the road, a breast-work
thrown up of earth and stones, and in front of it the
whole place would be studded with long and short bamboo
spikes. It was seldom that any attempt was made to
rush such a defence, and the usual tactics were to out-
flank the enemy and strike from behind. Pit-falls were
often used. As they were usually very skilfully concealed
great care had to be taken. They were dangerous as
they were studded with sharp bamboo spikes. Traces
of these pit-falls and stockades are found all over the
hills, especially near the larger villages and some of them
were used not so very many years ago.
A Kachin can hardly be called brave, and still he is
not exactly a coward. Under leadership that he can trust
he will fight bravely; but following his own method he
prefers not to fight in the open. When they made an
attack and found a greater resistance than expected, and
things were getting "too hot," they would withdraw and
wait for a better chance. Very little cruelty was practiced.
Prisoners were held until redeemed, or else they were sold as
slaves. They were not tortured, and the fallen were seldom
86 THE KACHINS.
mutilated. Heads might be cut off the fallen enemies to
be displayed at the "dance of victory" (pddang manau),
but as a rule there was no such exhibition. In days
gone by there was the custom of drinking some of the blood
of a specially brave and ferocious enemy in order to appro-
priate his spirit and daring, but that belongs to the past.
There are also some hints that canabalism was not unknown
in those days, evidently for the same purpose. But the
Kachins have long ago left these customs behind. They
are not head-hunters like the Was, and their method of
warfare will soon be forgotten.
The " dance of victory " has in most communities not been
held for almost a generation. This wild, picturesque
war-dance, reminding us of the American Indians, will
probably never again be seen in its former glory in the
fast changing Kachinland.
Shields of a square shape, covered with lozenge patterns,
may still be seen in some communities ; but they are mere
curiosities and it is long since they were of any practical
SOCIAL LIFE AND AMUSEMENTS.
The social life in a Kachin community centers around
such public events as a wedding or a funeral, and the
customs connected with their religion. Whatever happens
the whole village is concerned, and all contribute to the
success of the event. When a bride makes her entrance
into the community ; when someone is " sent off " to the
land of the dead; when there is a great sacrifice for
some particular purpose; and above all, when there is a
great dance (mdnau), all come together and there is the
usual feasting. But amusements in our sense of the word
can hardly be said to exist, Life in the hills is mostly a
keen struggle for existence; each one is hard at work
to support himself. Surrounded by great natural resources,
possessed of a generally fertile soil, our Kachin is poor,
nearly always poorly dressed, confronted all the time
with scarcity. Partial famines come very often ; few have
enough rice to supply them for the year. Work is to
them the great reality, and as the male members of the
household make it a point to do as little as possible,
heavy burdens fall on the women and children.
Children at play. Child-life, as known to us, does not
exist in Kachinland. The large number of deformed,
half-developed and half-witted children seen in most com.
munities of any size, is a sad commentary on social
conditions. The small boys run about almost naked,
amusing themselves any way they can. The broken and
generally overgrown hill-sides offer no attractive play-
grounds, and the youngsters grow up without any real
idea of play, so important to the development of a child.
Running, jumping or out-door sport in general, is almost
88 THE KACHINS.
unknown. Half -grown boys engage some in wrestling, test
their strength in certain positions with bamboo poles,
play marbles, a kind of "last tag," and spin tops. But
there is still less of amusement for the girls. She begins
work as early as possible. While yet of tender age she
will carry her younger brothers or sisters, help to do the
"chores," and bring water and wood. As soon as she
is tall enough she begins the hard paddy-pounding, and then
is sent to do her share in weeding the rice field. During
the cool weather she learns to spin and weave, and she
may be married before she is fifteen or sixteen, if not
a mother at that age. She never has the liberty her
brothers have, and the birth of a girl is regarded as some-
thing of a misfortune. When asking a Kachin how many
children he has, he will always give the number of boys,
the girls are not worth mentioning. Young men gamble
some with cowries and dice, but not to the same extent as
Shans and Burmans indulge in this pastime. They kill
small birds with mud pellets shot from small bamboo bows,
but this is not for sport but for something to eat.
Women. We have already mentioned the hard life im-
posed upon the women. They are always regarded inferior
to the men. The birth of a girl is announced with, " It
is only a girl." The young woman is sold for so much
cash and becomes the slave of her husband and of his
family, especially of the mother-in-law. It is only as she
advances in years and becomes the mother of a number
of sons that she becomes recognized as of any importance.
If she, in addition, has some mind and strength of character
she may become the virtual ruler of the household. While
the women pay the heaviest price for ignorance and degrad-
ing customs, they are as a rule the more unwilling to
change. It is far more difficult to induce the mother than
the father to send their son to school. They cling to
the old customs with a tenacity and ignorant superstition
that few of the men exhibit. Centuries of servitude,
hard work and no intellectual advantages, have dulled
SOCIAL LIFE AND AMUSEMENTS. 89
and blunted mind and heart, and they cannot imagine
that there is anything outside their narrow world.
The young people. A visitor to a Kachin village is struck
with the free and easy way of the young people. Every
evening they gather at the " maidens " apartment " (nla dap)
in some house, or else more likely in some granary decorated
for the occasion with twigs and flowers. In large villages a
special hut may serve the purpose, and in some instances
young people from several communities may meet at
some place in the jungle. The evening hours are passed
with music and singing. The village bard (Idka) may take
the lead, but it is usually done by some other young
man. The singing is responsive. The young men will
sing a few lines intoning or chanting the questions and
the young maidens will answer. This may be kept up
till midnight or later when the company breaks up and
sleeping places are found wherever convenient. There
are practically no restrictions in regard to the relations
between young unmarried people. They are allowed to
suit themselves, and the old people do not regard it as
in any way improper. It is the custom, and there is
nothing more to say about it. The love-songs sung at these
evening gatherings have generally some immoral hints
and insinuations, but not more so than many of the
cheap novels freely circulated in civilized countries, or
the degrading plays allowed in most communities. This
custom presents the worst side of the communal life, and
still we must not judge them from our standards altogether.
Most Kachins admit that right here is the cause of most
of their family troubles, but they are helpless against an
established custom. They know of nothing else. We give
the following stanzas of one of the typical love-songs,
illustrating their way of looking upon the relations between
the sexes. It shows us the life as lived by young people
led by natural impulses and no restraining influences :
90 THE KACHINS.
The men :
My lovely maidens, dear, beloved friends,
At this evening hour, in this amusement room
Let us exchange our lime and our tobacco ;
Let our lips be coloured with the cutch and lime ;
Let our mouths the love-song sing ;
Let us sound forth the joyous song ;
Let common laughter fill the hour.
The maidens :
Responding to the gallant song of love,
Consenting ever to the heart's desire,
If a feud be the result
And it should come to our noble brothers' ears,
The three-foot sword they'll draw,
And wield the rod and spear,
This only do we fear.
The men :
Who is the youth without a maiden ?
The sprouting paddy sown and planted,
Where is the hill on which it will not grow ?
The maidens :
Where is the maid without a lover ?
The sprouting grain when sown and scattered,
Where is the height on which it does not grow ?
The custom here described has aroused a great deal of
comment from Europeans. It has been asserted more than
once that no particular disgrace is attached to the young
girl who becomes the mother of an illegitimate child. This
is not the case. Both the girl's family and the girl herself
are disgraced, and the young man in question must atone
accordingly. The " mother of a bastard " has a poorer
chance in marriage and brings her family a smaller sum.
The child, which is generally adopted by the girl's people, is
not ill-treated, but is always called a bastard. There is no
attempt, however, to escape the consequences of their
mistake by the use of drugs or criminal operations. That
SOCIAL LIFE AND AMUSEMENTS. 91
to a Kachin would be a greater wrong than the first. It
should not be argued that the Kachins are especially
immoral. Under ordinary restraint their young people can
be as respectable as any. In the Kachin mission stations
we have for nearly thirty years educated hundreds of young
men and women in mixed schools, There are only one
or two cases on record where pupils have actually gone
wrong. In Christian villages, where the girls are kept at
home and the young people in general are looked after,
there are no more moral lapses than under similar conditions
in civilized lands.
The village bard. Poetry is the natural speech of the
savage. He thinks in similes, and his imagination is
unbridled. Religious and traditional Kachin is all poetic,
and in the consultation of the elders they use a great deal of
high-flown poetic ideas, and quote rhymes and rhythmic
proverbs which contain a great deal of imagination and
insight. In most of the larger communities is a village
bard (Idka), who is an important personage and officiates
especially at weddings, when he sings the glory of the
bride, and at " house-warmings," when he calls down the
blessings on the occupants of the new house, wishing them
happiness and prosperity. Sitting on a low stool, generally
thrumming a fan to keep time, he chants the songs as
inspired by the "muse" and the listeners join in the
"chorus." His song has very often a real poetic strain;
his flights of imagination indicate a sense of the ideal
often far above what we would expect from an illiterate
man living a life amidst primitive surroundings. We give
here an extract from one of these songs. It is the introduc-
tory part to a wedding hymn :
O got, agoi lo e; on this auspicious evening,
Of me the bard, of me the youthful minstrel,
Demand the joyous task to scale the ten-span tree.
Before the youth's love-lit face place the wicker-tray :
With joyous strength I will persist, the tree I'll scale.
92 THE KACHINS.
The grove for love songs is high above,
But I will enter the deep cool pool,
From its murky depth the fine, white sand I'll bring.
The love-lit youth the great Creator made,
His exalted name the honoured Sun-nat gave,
His umbilic cord the god of wisdom shaped ;
He held the bamboo prod and opened wide his ears,
In the spacious cranium conspicious skill found room.
And thus to every place and crowd he goes,
And sings the love-songs of the present age ;
He knows no shame, its hot flame does not burn ;
He need not blush nor turn his face away.
A bard is here, behold his face, amazing every one
With knowledge manifold as beads upon a bag
A pleasant sounding violin am I.
When in high, wild song the youth persists,
It's like as when the troubled waters from the upper springs
Soil the crystal stream from which the great chiefs drink ;
They blame the nats and at once bring forth
The divining bamboo to the palace front.
Now from my sitting place I'll rise,
My bended knees I'll move,
My body's grace display ;
With the crescent fan as with wings I'll play,
The ancestral story I will recount.
Once more the ancient glory I will sing.
Ye honoured elders, ye gold-producing sons,
Prepare your minds, my words receive with open ear.
Music. A double-barrelled flute made of small bamboo
seems to be the only genuine musical instruments of the
Kachins. Other kinds are found, but they are all of Shan or
Chinese pattern. The Chinese gong is considered a necessity
in a well furnished house, and the wealth of a rich man was
formerly gauged by the number of gongs he possessed.
The Chinese timbrel and a one-stringed violin, also of
Chinese pattern, are also found ; but the violin is played by
SOCIAL LIFE AND AMUSEMENTS. 93
very few. At the house building season, when the rice-field
of a chief is to be cleared, a road or a bridge repaired,
or when other communal work is on the programme, it
is customary to call the people together with " music."
The long Shan drum found in almost every village, one
or two gongs and a pair of timbrels are in evidence, and the
whole village may be marching after the musician. At other
occasions it is seldom that a performance on " mixed
instruments " is given. The gongs may be sounded just for
the fun of it at any time, but they are mostly used when
dancing the death-dance. Three gongs of different tonal
power are used on this occasion. The flute and the violin
enliven the evening hours when the young people meet
for amusement. The Shan drum is hardly ever used except
when calling the people together for communal work.
At the great religious dance (mdnau), a large cylindric
drum, suspended between two heavy posts, is in use. It has
a drum-head at either end, and it sends forth a strong, deep
note that re-echoes among the hills, letting people far
and near know the glories of the individual giving the
dance. It is never used on any other occasion.
Dances and dancing. Kachins never dance for the sake of
mere amusement. Anything like a "dance" or a ball is
unknown. Still there are several kinds of dances, and
during the cool season there is a considerable amount of
dancing done by both men and women. Of course all
dancing is done in oriental fashion, and the western hugging
set to music is regarded as most indecent and shameful.
All the dancing is connected with some religious custom,
or some event from which the religious element must not
be absent. (See Chap, on Mythology). Of these dances
the mdnau is the most conspicuous and characteristic. It
is given only by hereditary chiefs and rich men who by
special request and privilege are authorized to sacrifice
to the nat of prosperity (mddai nat). Rebel chiefs (those
not of the hereditary families), and ordinary commoners
can never give a mdnau. There are three kinds of this
94 THE KACHINS.
dance: the "burial dance," (ju mdnau), the "prosperity
dance" (sut mdnau), and the "dance of victory" (pddang
mdnau). The " burial dance," which seems to be the
original, is given by chiefs some time after a funeral. The
original idea was to propitiate the departed. It is nowadays
given by only very wealthy chiefs, and any form of the
dance is now called ju mdnau, the ju being simply used as a
couplet of mdnau. The " prosperity dance " is given as
a thanksgiving for good fortune, for the sake of displaying
one's wealth, at the same time asking the divinities for
further favors. This is the most common dance. It lasts
four or eight days, and costs the proprietor a great deal-
The man leading the dancing is fantastically dressed, a kind
of befeathered mitre (gup du ru), being the chief attraction
of his uniform. The performance is always held on a
circular dancing floor in front of the house. People come
from far and near, and a great number of cattle, pigs
and fowls are sacrificed and liquor flows freely. Instead
of bringing the chief prosperity, it usually leaves him
heavily in debt. The " dance of victory " celebrates some
signal success in warfare. As Kachins can no longer fight,
this dance will soon be forgotten. It is the most wild,
wierd and picturesque of all their dances, and is the one
given whenever they are on exhibition. Thus whatever
form of dancing may be on the programme, the religious
side is always present and the priest and especially the
jaiwa, (a kind of high-priest), is the real leader. But there
is enough of the " worldly " in it to satisfy any Kachin.
It is a time of license, of feasting and heavy drinking,
and unbridled indulgence. In the good old days there were
often drunken brawls and fighting causing endless trouble
and sometimes bloody feuds. When all is over and the
dance is ready to break up, a cow is sacrificed, and a large
yam, nicknamed a " pig," is placed near the dead animal.
A supposedly crazy man, called tsawn rawn wa, comes and
carries away the "pig" and this closes the great event.
The meaning of this singular close is not clear; but it
SOCIAL LIFE AND AMUSEMENTS. 95
seems intended to illustrate the idea that man even though
inferior to the nats has been able by this means, the dance,
to carry away the blessings of the supernatural powers.
The morning after the close of the dance a special offering,
usually a white fowl, is made to the genius of " dark deeds "
(sinlai mdraw). A tall, slender tree with branches lopped
off except at the top, is placed at the center of the dancing
floor. It is bent as a bow by means of a stout rope and
to the top branches the offering is tied. Then the rope
is cut, the tree springs back and the white fowl hangs
as a token that fate itself has been propitiated by the
generosity and great deeds of the defrayer of the dance.
The death-dance (kdbungdum), is observed in the house
of a departed from the time of death until it is sent off
to the ancestral realms. The idea is to give the spirit (tsu)
amusement, and incidentally to provide entertainment and
consolation for those left behind. Young and old, men and
women, may join in. Three gongs of different tonal power
are beaten to keep time. (See Chap. XVI, para. Death-
dance). The dance begins late and lasts till after midnight.
It may be kept up for a long time if the family is too poor to
pay the heavy expenses connected with sending the spirit to
the land of the departed.
Nau Shawng or leader of dance.
House in the Hukong Valley.
It is difficult to estimate the intellectual side of a Kachin.
Of " book-learning " he has none, and still some of the older
men are quite well informed. They have never had a
written language, even though there is a tradition of a " lost
book." This story handed down in various versions seems
to be common property among illiterate tribes all over Asia,
and so with the legend of the "flood." Schools and the
rudiments of knowledge never enter the thoughts of our
hillmen, and very few of them have patronized the Shan or
Burman monasteries. Only twenty years ago I published
the first book in a Romanized alphabet that had ever
been seen in Kachin, and since then several hundred boys
and girls have been educated in mission and Government
schools. But education is still the rare exception, and the
old indifference to everything along that line is the rule.
The children who can be induced to enter school are bright
and active and learn very quickly. The parents, especially
the mothers, are nearly always opposed to the children
leaving home and going to school. Many of the boys
now in the schools are there without the consent of the
parents. Boys of ten or eleven years of age can do as they
please. They can run away and stay away. But the girls
are kept more closely, and ordinarily only one girl to three
boys receives an education. Some who may admit some
benefits of an education for a boy, can never see the
least use in a girl learning to read. She must do the work
in the house, and she can pound paddy, feed the pigs
and carry water without knowing the mysteries of the white
man's book. Indeed a little schooling unfits her for these
essentials of the domestic life. The Kachin in fact advances
the same arguments in favor of ignorance that we are
98 THE KACHINS.
familiar with from other parts of the world. Yet necessity
has forced him to do some thinking. Without writing,
he has invented a rude form of sign language, or a system
of intercommunication by giving a figurative meaning to
every day objects. He has developed his calendar, and
his system of measurements, reminding us of similar
attempts among primitive men. He does some drawing,
and has some knowledge of plants and medicine. Being
used to rely mainly on the memory for everything, many
have developed this faculty to a wonderful degree. The
wisdom and experience of the ages has been embodied in
stories and proverbs worthy of a comparision with the
traditional lore of more favored and advanced races.
Sign language. Communication by the means of signs
and tokens, a kind of "cipher code," is founded on the
principle of "word-play." For example, sdmyit, a needle,
has for its last syllable myit t the word for mind or thinking.
Thus a needle, sent to a distant friend means, I am thinking
of you, I have you in mind. Hpundu, growing thatch,
has for its last syllable du, to come, to arrive. A needle
and some thatch sent together means, I am thinking of you,
I will come, (or you come). Mdjap, red-pepper, stands
for jap, to be hot or pungent, and thus indicates anger
or wounded feelings. Dumsi prung, a porcupine spine,
contains the syllable si to die, hence it means death. Shdkau,
onions, means, I will have you, from kau, to throw away.
Ura, elephant bamboo, means, I desire, or love you, from
ra, to want. Thus if a needle, some red-pepper and a piece
of an onion is sent, it means, I have it in mind, I am
offended, I will leave you. It will be seen that this way of
communication can be both expressive and forceful.
But there are other ways to express one's feelings.
Anything black (charcoal, black yarn or the like), indicates
hatred, shame or destruction by fire ; red indicates bloodshed
and war. A miniature sword, gun or spear, made of wood,
announces a declaration of war. If a notch is made in
the spear and sword given at a wedding, it is especially
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT. 99
sacred and binding. If the promise or vow is broken
the offender must die by sword or spear. A piece of red
yarn sent to someone means, there will be a fight ; a string
with one knot means, I pity you, you are alone; a knot
at each end means, we are united; several knots tell the
story, I will come after as many days as there are knots
on the string. Anything foul-smelling indicates disgust
or something vile.
Wrapping up a bundle or packet in a plantain leaf can
also be made expressive of hatred or friendship. If in
sending away a visitor the hostess wraps the packet in
such a way that the knot is made towards her it means,
I wish you could stay with us longer; if away from her,
it indicates displeasure and satisfaction that he is going.
When the packet is tied with bamboo splits, the number
of turns indicate the mind of the giver. An even number
signifies friendship and pleasure, an odd number the opposite.
The greater number of turns the more the emphasis on
A notched piece of bamboo is given as a pledge or a
" memorandum." It is also used for keeping tally. When
given as a pledge between two contracting parties it is
split in two, each side keeping a half, to be compared in
case of further disagreement. In time of war it was
customary to send a small piece of buffalo skin, with
the hair attached to it, to friends or allies asking for
their assistance. When cattle were stolen some hair
fastened to a piece of bamboo is stuck up somewhere along
the road to indicate contempt and defiance. A small piece
of spleen from a sacrificed animal would in some localities
be sent to declare a feud. But many of these customs
are already being forgotten, as feuds and bloodshed and
intertribal wars are no longer possible because of the
Drawing. A rude kind of drawing is seen on the " prayer
posts" (Idban), at the village entrance. It is mostly pictures
of rice, ornaments and weapons, placed in this conspicuous
100 THE KACHINS.
position to remind the village divinities of what is most
valuable to the inhabitants. Sometimes the front girder
of a house, and the posts and girders of a nat-house are
similarly decorated. On the graves of chiefs and rich men
some decoration in Shan style is attempted, but it is all of
the rudest kind imaginable. The verdict must be that
the Kachins have no conception of art. Most of them
cannot tell what a picture or photograph represents.
The calendar. The division of time follows the seasons
of the year. The seasons are first of all divided into the
dry and the wet seasons. The dry season (ginhtawng
to), lasts from October to March ; that is, from the time
of harvest to the next sowing and planting ; the rainy
season (Idnam ta), is reckoned from April to September,
the time when cultivation is in progress. These two
divisions of the year are subdivided as follows, the New
Year beginning in October :
The dry season :
Mdngai ta, the time for the new rice, October and
Kdshung ta, the cold season, December and January.
Htawng ga ta, the hot and dry season, February and
The rainy season :
Nlum ta, the hot season ; April to middle of May.
Htingra ta, the paddy planting season ; from middle of
May to the end of June.
Mdyu ta, the time when paddy is growing; July to
The months, which are strictly lunar months, are counted
from one new moon to the next. Any division into weeks
is not found. The months are nearly all named after trees
or flowers blossoming at certain seasons. The real Kachin
names are in many localities hardly known as the Shan
names are in ordinary use. The Kachin names are the
Kdla, October, the time when the kdla flower is out.
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT: 101
Mdji, November, when the white mdji flower is blos-
Mdga, December, when the thorny mdga sheds its leaves.
Hkru, January, when there is enough for all to eat.
Ra, February, when the ra tree is budding.
Wut, March, when the wut creeper is blossoming.
Shdla, April, when the shdla tree is in blossom.
Jdhtum, May, the end of the hot season.
Shdngan, June, the month of fevers and disease.
Shi mdri, July, the wet month.
Gup shi, August, when the wet month is doubled.
Gup tung, September, when the wet months are at their
If the Kachin names are not used, as is the case in many
localities, the Shan names take their place. These are,
beginning with October, Lunjing, Lungam, Lunsam, etc.,
the word lun, month, with the numerals up to twelve. In
the Northern Shan States these names are everywhere used.
The hours of the day indicate the progress of the sun
and well known natural phenomena. Counting from mid-
night we have
Yup tung, 12 o'clock, time of deep sleep.
Hpung tsin se, 1-2 a. m., time of the quiet morning breeze.
U got, 3 a. m., the cock crow.
Ginhtawng pru, 4 a. m., the rise of the morning star.
Mdnap, 5 a. m., the time of dawn.
Jan pru, 6 a. m., sunrise.
Jan dahkaw mi lung, 7 a. m., the sun ascended the length
of a weaving board.
Jan tsing law tsan, 8-11 a. m., forenoon, when the sun is
Jan pungding ga t 12 m., the sun cleaveng the top of
Jan kdyau, 1-2 p. m., the sun on the descent, " recline."
Jan kddang, 3-4 p. m., the sun " tumbling down," rapidly
102 THE KACHINS.
Jan nmaw mi rawng, 5 p. m., the sun at the height of a
Jan shang mddu, 6 p. m., the sun about to go down,
Nrim, 7 p. m., the evening dusk.
Shang tawn, 8-9 p.m., the time when all are inside
Pran tawm, 10-11 p. m., the time when the young people
It should be remembered that the Kachin's idea of
time is exceedingly vague and indefinite. His year is,
roughly speaking, from one paddy harvest to another,
his month from new moon to new moon, and his day from
sunrise to sunrise. They can never tell their ages with
certainty, and in regard to old persons they make the wildest
guesses. Any old man between seventy and eighty is
always thought of as a hundred years old. The fact that it
is an honor to be very old has something to do with this ;
but as there are no ways of reckoning except keeping in
mind the harvest season, it is easy to see how they soon
become confused. Anything like an intercalary month or
period is unknown, and they have no fixed number of days
in their year. Whether there are twelve or thirteen new
moons between one harvest and the next is never thought
of, they simply follow the coming and going of the seasons.
Of the stars the Kachins have a superstitious dread
and they never dare to count them or point at them, without
some way of circumlocution. The morning star (mdnap
ginhtawng), and the pleiades (kru mdjan), are the only stars
named. This last constellation, when at a certain height,
is regarded as indicating the time when paddy should
Measures. Measures of length are as follows :
Ldmyin chyang, the length of the black of the nail.
Ldywng tsen, one finger's width.
Ldhkawng pren, two fingers' width.
Mdsum pren, three fingers' width.
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT. 103
M Ali pren, four fingers' width.
Ldhpa mi, the width of the hand.
Gumdun, from the end of the thumb to the end of the
Gumchyan, or Idhkam, a span, reckoned from the thumb
to the end of the second finger.
Ldtup dawng, from the elbow to the knuckles of the fist.
Dawng mi, from the elbow to the second finger's tip.
Sinda ga, from the finger's tip to the middle of the chest.
Ldlam, a fathom.
Measures of capacity are nowadays determined by the
standards in the Shan, Chinese or Burman localities nearest
to them. The small and the large basket may be used
in the same place; each community is at liberty to have
its own standards and the headman alone can interfere
if the measures are not of the prescribed capacity. The
generally accepted measures are as follows :
Ldtup mi, one handful, the hand nearly closed.
Ldpai mi, one open handful, two Idtup.
Ldku mi, as much as can be held in both hands.
Jdre mi, four handfuls.
Bye mi, four jdre.
Jik mi, four byi, a fourth of a basket.
Hpai mi, the half of a basket ; two jik.
Dang mi, one basket, about one bushell.
Jaw mi, ten baskets.
Weights. The standards in weights are even more variable
than those of measures. The Chinese and Shan scales
are used, and the Chinese balance, or steel-yard, is not
uncommon. The following are the ordinary weights :
Lem mi, the weight of one mdlem, a kind of seed.
Dum mi, a stone or piece of metal equal to two mdlem.
Pe mi, equal to two dum.
Mu mi, the eighth of a viss.
Gahkan, the half of a viss.
Joi mi, one viss, (3.6 pounds).
104 THE KACHINS.
Money. In counting money the Kachins follow the
Shans. Copper coin was formerly not accepted in the
hills but now it is taken everywhere. The use of Chinese
bullion is now a thing of the past, but a good deal of
uncoined silver is still found. Many of the more wealthy
have bags of it concealed in safe places. The names
of pieces of currency vary somewhat is different localities,
but the following will be accepted and understood every-
Ka mi, one pie.
Hpaisan or peksan, one pice.
Pe mi, one anna.
Mu mi, two annas ; a two-anna bit.
Hti mi, four annas, a four-anna bit.
Lap mi or gyap mi, one rupee ; in the Shan States often
called bya mi.
Rawng mi, two and a half rupees.
Hkan mi, ten rupees.
Gahkan, fifty rupees ; half a viss of silver.
Pan mi, seventy-five rupees; three-fourths of a viss of
Jot mi, one hundred rupees ; one viss of silver.
Numbers. There are different names for the cardinals,
1 to 10, 20, 100, 200, 1000, and 10,000; but a Kachin
has no clear idea of numbers above a thousand. When
he wishes to convey the idea of anything innumerable
and thus incomprehensible, he uses the expression, thousand
and tens of thousands (hkying mi mun mi). For larger
figures he borrows Shan or Burman terms, but they convey
no meaning to him whatsoever. Even children who have
been in school a number of years find it difficult to under-
stand what is meant by a hundred thousand and a million.
Either only stands for something that cannot be counted.
Plants and medicine. Our hillman has names for most of
the things growing in the jungle. He uses a number of
plants, roots and herbs for medicinal purposes; but most
of his drugs he gets from the Shans and the Chinese. It
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT. 105
is only in the case of sores, ulcers and the like, that he
applies remedies. In more severe cases he is a "faith-
healer," believing that his sacrifices and prayers to the
spirits will bring the desired help. In European medicine
he has a very uncertain faith. He will try it when every-
thing else has failed. And even if he takes it he is likely to
use the native mixtures on the sly. He can't see how there
can be any virtue in a sugar-coated pill that tastes sweet
and pleasant as it goes down. He wants something that
will choke him ; something the taste of which will remain
for at least a week. The viler the stuff the more effective it
is sure to be ; the worse it tastes the more satisfied he is.
Among other drugs, the blood of wild buffalo, the gall
of a python, the fat and gall of the slow-loris, crushed
tiger's bones, musk, and the gall of the bear are especially
valued in Kachin pharmacy.
Proverbs. Like other orientals the Kachins have embodied
the wisdom of the ages in a number of proverbs and
pithy sayings. Some of them are very apt and to the point
and carry a meaning even in translated form. We give
a few, the originals of which are found in the Kachin
Spelling Book and in the Introduction to the Dictionary.
The priest grabs for a comb, of which he has no need,
his head being shaved ; said of inordinate and unreasonable
The Chinaman's offering the fowl's head, this being a
rare delicacy and only one in the dish, no one out of courtesy
will accept it, and so he can eat it himself.
I believe, but only as I believe a visitor, whom it is
polite not to contradict.
Having fallen from the granary you raise the ladder.
Measure the pig before you make the basket.
The pigeon left and the crow took its place.
When the lamp is lit you must expect insects.
The humming bird's eggs are naturally small.
Hit the horn, the ear quivers.
106 THE KACHINS.
If bamboo or wood is crooked it can be seen, a crooked
mind no one can see.
When saying, " Work, work," I alone hear it ; when calling,
" Come and eat," a flock of monkeys gather.
There is a bazaar for selling salt and fish, but none
for selling brothers and sisters.
It is for a slave to obey, for a goat to eat ferns.
Rocky places are the natural home for goats.
No one can change his colour, anyone can repent.
When children trade, men lose.
Anyone can set fire to a prairie or kill a Shan.
He who sees a trout will let the crab go.
Everyone sees the hole in the other man's bag, no one
sees it in his own.
The paddy planting season we know, but man's time
we cannot tell.
The language is rich in this kind of sayings and is easily
adapted to similies and figurative forms of speech.
Riddles. (Gumwai ga.) Riddles and veiled sayings are
also numerous ; but it is necessary to know Kachin customs
and ways in order to understand them. We will give
only two or three examples of the most characteristic :
What is the elephant always in a paddy-field ? The paddy
What is always crying when men pass? The door.
What has porcupine holes by the shore line ? The nose.
What is always carrying around a basket of "bamboo-
spikes " ? The porcupine.
What is it that says, " Mother, I will go first " ? The hand-
spindle, referring to the custom of the women always to
use the hand-spindle (hkAbang) as they walk along.
A great deal of the difficulty in understanding native conver-
sation is due to ignorance of customs and usages constantly
alluded to. A Kachin takes it for granted that you must
know all he knows about their ways and habits, family
relations and everything else. His world is in very many
respects entirely the opposite of ours; but he must be
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT. 107
excused for not being able to understand this. Few Euro-
peans ever learn to understand the native mind; there is
always a gulf fixed between the east and the west. It is
not surprising that the white man, with his strange ways
and customs so different from anything the oriental mind
has ever conceived, is forever a riddle and a mystery, espe-
cially to our uncivilized hillmen with their narrow vision
and perspective. It takes long years and study for a
European to get so familiar with the natives that he can
think as they think and understand their point of view.
But however close he gets, there will always be something
that will escape him, some things that he will never fully
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS.
Like all primitive people our Kachins are fond of stories
and story-telling. If all their traditional lore was collected,
it would make a volume strange and interesting. They
do not have the imagination of the Arabian Nights, nor
the insight into the mysteries of nature shown in Indian
myths; but they carry with them traces of the earliest
attempts of primitive man to account for the world around
him. Nearly every incident, experience and phenomenon
of life can be illustrated and explained by some story,
tradition or myth, indicating their faith, ideas and con-
ception of nature. In many of them we trace a close
relationship to similar stories among other tribes and races.
Some have travelled a long road before they assumed the
shape the Kachin story-teller gives them. In all we can see
how the human mind naturally travels along certain
channels, and how the phenomena of nature everywhere
receive nearly the same explanation when man has nothing
to guide him but his limited observation and untrained
imagination. We cannot in a single chapter do justice
to all their traditions and curious tales, but we will select
a few that will help us to understand Kachin belief in
regard to the past and present, the seen and the unseen.
Most of these stories I have had printed in the Kachin
Spelling Book, the first Reader, and Introduction to the
Grammar and Dictionary.
The Creation. The savage is as interested as the man
of science in the beginning of things. When the great
religious dance (mdnau) is given, the professional story-
teller (jaiwa), rehearses the whole creation-legend as handed
down by the Kachins. It is told in rhythmic, sometimes
truly poetic, language. We can give it here only in a
110 THE KACHINS.
condensed form. Originally, " before the beginning," there
was no heaven or earth. There existed only wind, clouds,
and a mysterious female half human and half avian. From
these agencies were brought forth by a generative process
the first cosmic matter and the primitive spirits. The first
spirits, Kringkrawn and Kringnawn, brought forth the first
seven nats (lower forms of spirits), the names of which
are borne by the first seven sons in every family where
that number or more are born. This mysterious pair
also gave birth to the first reptiles, birds and wild animals.
Having thus in eight successive births given existence to
the primitive nats and first animal life, the earth itself
was given form and order, but the present division of
land and water came much later. Two great spirits,
Chydnun and Woishun, now appeared exactly from where
is not clear. Chydnun gave birth to nine new nats, and
at nine successive births brought forth the elemental parts
of our world. After each birth she again became a
"maiden" (or a virgin), and having nine times returned
to maidenhood, she bore Hpung Un and Hpung An, after
which she became the mother of the "nine brothers,"
who play a very important part in Kachin traditions. At
last she gave birth to a monstrous being named Ninggawn
wa Mdgam. The mother was in birth-pain for seven years,
and he held at his birth a great hammer and a pair of
tongs. (In Chydnun we have a personification of the life-
producing process of nature.) Ninggawn wa, with the tools
in his possession, gave the present form and shape to Kachin-
land. He began at Mdjoi Shingra Bum (the Eden of Kachin
tradition), and has to his credit only the territory east of
the Irrawaddy as far south as the Loi sip saw, the " thirty
mountains," just south of Kutkai. Having finished this,
nevertheless, tremendous task he planned to build a bridge
across the Irrawaddy a few miles north of Myitkyina. But
the "nine brothers," out of malice or envy because of
the great achievements of their really younger brother,
caused the work to cease, and Ninggawn wa sent the Flood.
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. Ill
Having given birth to Ninggawn wa his mother (Chydnun)
brought forth a great pumpkin which the " Omniscient
One," (apparently the last of Chydnun's sons), divided
into two parts after the death of the mother. From the
part to the right the first man was created, from the left
half came the first woman. This happy pair dwelt at
the central part of the earth, by a beautiful mountain
created from the head of Chydnun. This in brief is the
Kachin creation story. Variations and local colourings
are found reflecting Shan or Chinese influence, but this
must be expected where the only authority is an oral
tradition and everyone is allowed full liberty in imagina-
tion and fancy. The whole creation story given in its
minute details would fill a small volume. We give here
a free translation of the introductory part as rehearsed by
a high-priest (jaiwa) at exceptionally great occasions.
Formerly the heavens high were not,
The stable earth had no existence.
Where since were fixed the heavens high,
The fleeting cloud alone appeared.
Where now the solid earth is seen,
The fairy-fowl alone was found.
The fleeting cloud in haste descended
Covering the fowls short tail.
In haste she bore, at once gave birth,
Something like a wicker-basket was born,
Something like a capsule of a plant.
She filled the basket, packed the capsule,
It became the size of a waiter,
In circumference as a fanning-tray.
Thus the cloud nat Earth appeared ;
The Earth of the Fairy-fowl became.
Then was born Kringkrawn,
And after him Kringnawn.
Then the fleeting cloud expired,
All existing lands it heard,
112 THE KACHINS.
But close to heaven hung the drooping clouds.
The Fairy-fowl also expired.
Informed are existing lands,
But then appeared the bird Ldtsaw.
The bird Ldtsaw seems to be a Kachin phoenix, but no
one seems to know definitely its history. Just as the rain-
giving clouds take the place of the first original cloud,
so this mysterious bird appears when the first fowl expires.
Again we see the trend towards personification.
The Great Flood, (Shan Shding). The Kachin version
of this almost universal story is the following. Sometime
after Minggawn wa had finished his creative work and
appointed dwelling places for the different races, he started
to build a huge stone bridge across the Irrawaddy, the
foundation of which can still be seen a few miles north
of Myitkyina. His nine brothers, already mentioned,
moved with envy because of the great achievements of their
younger brother, determined to undo the work. So they
came one day and said to him, "Your mother is dead,
return home." This did not seriously trouble him, as he
thought it would be easy to find a step-mother. Having
failed the first time the brothers made a second attempt,
saying, "Your father is dead, come back." This caused
him great sorrow and "his royal heart was filled with
anger," as he realized that no one could take the place
of a father. He crushed in his wrath an adjacent mountain
and returned home. Arriving at the palace he found
both father and mother well and hearty. Realizing that he
had been deceived, he determined to take vengeance on
his brothers. He caused a great deluge intending to
extinguish every form of life. The brothers, however, were
not drowned, but were afterwards killed by a viper. But
all other human beings were killed except two orphans who
escaped in a large, oval shaped drum. They took along
nine cocks and nine steel needles. A needle was dropped
and a cock let lose each passing day. On the ninth day,
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 113
they heard the needle ring against the stones, and the
last cock crow. Then they knew that the earth was
dry. One of the orphans was some time after their escape
killed by a ferocious demon. The other one married a
half-demon named Ndnghkut (smoke). They had a child
which was killed by a cruel spirit, named Jdhtung, when
the mother was absent from home. The spirit prepared
the liver for the mother to eat, and the body was chopped
into small pieces and scattered over an adjoining field.
From this strange seed a new race grew up, somewhat
different from the antediluvian, the one now inhabiting
The story of the origin of the new race runs as follows in
a somewhat different version in which the Jdhtung and
the field are absent. The two orphans married and had
a child. When old enough to be weaned the child was
left in the care of an old man while the parents were out at
work. The child cried for the mother and the old man
said, "What if I cut up (lit., mine) the child and scatter
(lit., sow) the pieces at the nine cross-roads " ? The child
understanding the meaning of his words kept quiet. But
one day the old man carried out his fearful threat. Having
disposed of the pieces at the cross-roads, he took the
liver and some of the intestines and prepared a broth;
to deceive the mother he covered a low stool with the
garments of the child. When the mother returned after
dark she asked for her child. The old man said, " Your
child is asleep ; sit down and eat this broth and I will bring
it." The mother did as she was told. Having finished her
meal the old man told her, " You have eaten your child,"
and informed her what he had done. The mother in
despair went to the " nine cross-roads." Then she saw that
from her child had grown up nine different races. She
came to the first and exclaimed, " Oh, my child ! " This
one said, "You have eaten our intestines and liver, we
are afraid of you." She came to the second, repeating
the same words, and received the same answer. Each
114 THE KACHINS.
one in turn showed that they were afraid of her, and did
not regard her as the true mother. Then in sadness and
sorrow she departed to the country where the sun goes
down. But before she left she instructed them how to
sacrifice to her in case they became afflicted with disease.
This is the reason why now " all men " make offerings
to the Janhku, the spirit causing bowel-trouble.
Origin of death. Man was born immortal, but because
of a foolish desire to play with death, and deceive the spirit
holding the " cord of life," illness, old age and decease
were imposed as a punishment by the " Spirit of the Sun."
The story, which is one of the most instructive and character-
istic in Kachin traditional lore, is told in various ways.
I give it here mainly as printed in the Kachin Reader*
differing somewhat from the version followed in the Spelling
Book. Formerly when there were nine suns and dogs grew
nine tails, death was unknown among men. Grass and
weeds only died, and there was simply an appearance of
burial, when they decayed and again became dust. Then
the great trees began to grow old and die, last of all
the mighty banyan, but there were no funeral ceremonies ;
the trunk remained above ground and was allowed to
decompose and decay. Just about this time the first old
and venerated elephant drew his last breath in the midst of
the jungle ; all the animals of the forest came in mourning
and said, " Oh, our grandfather ! " Only the goat came and
said, "Ah, my grandson!" Now the sun went up and
down, and every time the great luminary sank in the
west men said, " The sun is dead," and went to the land of
the sun to dance the death-dance. The other version
has it, that as there were nine suns the heat was unbear-
able, and by complaining to the sun-nat one sun after
the other was extinguished until only one remained. The
men at the expiration of each sun went and danced the
death-dance. Having on eight different occasions danced
in the sun-country, mankind, wishing to return the attention
paid to them, invited the sun-nats for a similar performance
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 115
in a human abode. The spirit of the sun who holds the
" cord of life," testing the cord found it was not broken,
and hence knew that no one had died. Still they all
went, and danced the death-dance all night long. In the
morning, when outside the house, about to return they
said to each other, " We have danced the death-dance
all night long, but we have seen no corpse." So re-entering
the house they put bird-lime (or wax) on their feet and
as they danced, everything stuck to their feet and at
last was exposed a large squirrel, "with glazed eyes and
shining teeth," dressed up as a corpse. The sun-spirits
now returned to the great mother-spirit reporting what
they had seen. Then said the sun-spirit, "No one has
died among men, but as they wish to die let the cord
of life be cut for old men and women." The other version
is here more graphic ; when the sun-spirits saw the deception
practiced on them they said, "Well, if men wish to die
let old men and women expire." Returning home they
passed the abode of the headman of Mdjoi Shingra, the
chameleon, who holds about the same place in Kachin
tradition as the serpent among the Semitic races. Hearing
their foot-steps he asked where they had been and what
they had done. Being informed he asked, "And what
did you decide " ? They answered, " Old people must die."
"' No " said the chameleon, " since you left, my son Ahtot
rawng (the light-bearer) has died, and my decree is that
old and young must die without distinction." But even
now men did not die as at present. A very old woman,
Man nang, was the first to die and they made her a
coffin. She told her people, " ! When I die you will see
me disappear by the corner of the fire-place." As she had
told them so it happened ; the moment she died her people saw
her disappear by the corner, and being frightened they ran
to the opposite side. Seeing this she said, "Are then
my children and grandchildren really afraid of me?"
She then drew a spirit- veil over their eyes, and since
then no human being has ever seen a disembodied spirit.
116 THE KACHINS.
There were no funeral ceremonies made when Mdri nang
Then Kabang Gumna died and they introduced the pro-
ceedings that are now customary on such occasions. But
they did not know what music to furnish when dancing
the death-dance. Hearing the owl they caught the idea
of the deep, solemn tones of the " three gongs." They
did not know how to dance the " spear-dance " in front
of the house, but seeing the hole of the mole, and how
he arranged his pieces of roots, they learned to finish
with care the spear representing the wealth and prosperity
of the house; while the spear representing the world of
the dead is left unfinished with the ends of the bamboo
splits, with which it is wound, sticking out in every direction.
Thus the children of Kabang Gumna perfected the funeral
ceremonies. Having buried her, these ceremonies were
observed by Wahkyet wa, and his wife Mdgawng kdbang
majan. When they grew old and were ready to depart
hence, they ordered their children to bury them with the
now ancestral ceremonies and customs. Another version
says that the death-dance and the now accepted customs
were observed for the first time when a certain Lddu wa
Pungngang ended his life.
The loss of the Fruit of Life. When men had become
mortal a number of cattle came and devoured the "life-
giving fruit " which otherwise would have kept the human
race immortal. When mankind complained, the cattle pro-
mised to be willing always to be sacrificed in their behalf.
Thus are cattle offered as substitutes for men in case of
illness or other calamities.
The lost Book. The story of a lost book is universal
among the illiterate races of Burma. Just what is behind
the tradition is impossible to say, but it may in the case
of the Karens, at least, represent a faint echo of a higher
form of civilization in days gone by than they now possess.
The Kachin rendering of this interesting episode is as follows.
" When the world had been set in order and the differ-
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 117
ent races assigned their respective homes, Ninggawn wa
Magam, after having built a house on the Shdjang moun-
tain, and a dancing floor on the Sumhpan plain, and after
having propitiated all the fates, called the children of
men together and informed them that now he was ready to
return to his great central palace. The tribes of men
implored him to remain, as without him they would be
helpless. This request he could not grant, but he gave
to the wild boar his tusks, and to the hornbill its gorgeous
plumage. Likewise for the help of mankind he gave to each
race a book. The Chinese received a book on paper;
the Shans and Burmans books of palm-leaves, to foreigners
he also gave paper books, but the Kachins received a
book of parchment. On the return the recipient of the
Kachin book prepared and ate it, either to appease his
hunger or else because he thought this the best way to
preserve it. (This point is not quite clear.) But at all
events since that day the Kachins have had no written
book ; the great priests and story-tellers keep its contents in
their minds (lit. in their stomachs), and repeat it all at
the great feasts, when it takes three days and nights to
rehearse it. It contains the only authentic record of creation,
the flood, different human races, the origin of the nats
(spirits), and tells us all about their work and worship.
Why the Kachins are nat (spirit) worshippers. When
the great Ninggawn wa once called all the races together,
the Kachin men brought with them the ordinary large
holed wicker basket, while the other races brought their
closed baskets. It happened that this was the time gold,
silver and other riches were to be distributed to the children
of men. Shans, Burmans, Chinese and foreigners filled
their baskets and carried them home; the gold and silver
fell out between the holes of the Kachin baskets, and
only the more worthless articles remained. This is the
reason the Kachins are poor, as compared with more
favored nations. One version of the story says the
Kachins carried only their bags, or haversacks, and that
118 THE KACHINS.
accounts for the small amount of money a Kachin possesses.
Next time the races were called together the Kachins
thought they would profit by their former misfortune,
and instead of carrying the ordinary man's basket were
armed with the closed baskets carried by women. The
other races in some way were aware of the particular
nature of the gift awaiting them, and so came with
large holed wicker baskets. This time nats (spirits) were
distributed. The Kachin's baskets were filled and the nats
could not escape, while they dropped out through the holes
as soon as poured into the baskets of the other nations.
The Kachin load was exceedingly heavy, and they had
to stop now and then along the road to lighten the burden
by letting out some of the nats. But they reached home
with about half of the number. To these they now must
offer in their homes and villages. The others must be
propitiated whenever they are on the road, as these spirits
are encountred everywhere, being somewhat lonely among
their solitary hills or on the plains.
Natural phenomena. Everything in the realm of nature
has a supernatural cause, and is attributed to the agency of
some powerful demon or spirit. Rain and clouds are caused
by the celestial nat, and the reverberation of the thunder is
the warning of his voice. There is nothing before which a
Kachin stands in greater awe than thunder and lightning.
It is to him expressive of the greatest imaginable power
in the upper regions. The rainbow comes from the mouth
of an immense crab, inhabiting subterranean caves. Once
in a while it comes out and then the " great swing" (n-goi la
turn,) appears. If the arc is complete it is not likely to rain
the day following ; if it is " broken," or very faint, " it may
or may not rain," which is a safe prognostication, quite
characteristic, and typical of predictions in general. Another
rendering has it that the rainbow is caused by a great
woman washing a variegated skirt the colors of which
are running. This is simpler than the crab story and to
the average mind more satisfactory.
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 119
An eclipse is caused by a tremendous frog trying to
swallow the sun, (jan shu mdyu,) or the moon (shdta shu
mdyu). In some localities, especially near the Chinese
frontier, gongs are beaten, guns are fired, and the people
cry at the top of their voices, " Let it go ! let it go ! " to
frighten away the frog trying to do away with the luminary.
It is always a wonder how an eclipse can be foretold months
and years ahead. When they are convinced that it can
be done, their one explanation is that the spirits must in
some way make it known to the white man.
An earth-quake is explained in at least three different
ways. One tradition states that once upon a time the
large beetle (kindu nan,) came and lied to the earth-spirit
called man hpddam, and said: "The men on the top of
the earth are all dead, I am unable to bury them." So
in order to find out she shook the pillars of the earth.
A somewhat related rendering is the following: "Once
in a while when things are too peaceful and quiet on
the surface of the earth, the terrestrial spirit says, "I
wonder if my children have forgotten me, or if they are
all dead." So in order to satisfy herself she shakes her
umbrella, and the earth feels the effect. It is thus
customary to call out at an earth-quake, Dum sd ga ai law,
" We remember you," signifying that they are neither dead
nor guilty of forgetfulness. In some localities the move-
ments of subterranean alligators are regarded as the cause,
and the oriental story of a mighty serpent coiled around
the world, biting its own tail and in the agony shaking
the foundations of the world, is also told. But these
last legends can be traced back to Shan and Chinese
sources. The alligator, however, plays an important part in
Kachin mythology, but in this instance the first two stories
are no doubt the most truely Kachin.
Some of these stories seem to be common property
among all the hill tribes. The Manipur Nagas are in
the habit of shouting, "We are alive," whenever an earth-
quake happens, for about the same reason that moves a
120 THE KACHINS.
Kachin to call out, "We remember you." Instead of the
Kachin beetle, some Naga tribes, according to T. S.
Hodson, attribute to a grasshopper the dismal story that
no men were left upon the earth. In fact all these nature
myths can be traced back to a common origin, if we
can only go back far enough. The forces of nature are
naturally deified. What is so far beyond the power of man,
must be the work of some god, spirit or demon. The story
of the Demiurge is as old and universal as mankind ; it is
told in the words of the savage, as well as in the scientific
language of civilized man. Primitive man believes in the
wonderful and supernatural without a word of questioning.
He feels the need of some explanation of what he sees
and hears, feels and fears ; and the assurance that behind
it all dwells the power that rules over all, the divinities
and spirits that everywhere encompass him, is quite suffi-
cient for his intelligence. That these divinities are the
creation of his own imagination never occurs to him. It
is from simple stories of this kind that many of our
most interesting legends, myths and traditions have grown.
The Greek and the Roman, the Hindu and the Chinaman,
see the same world, and left to themselves, explain it
very much the same way.
The shaded parts of the moon come from the foliage
of an immense banyan, or India-rubber tree. This tree
is held in reverence on account of its size and the general
belief that they are inhabited by nats. All the tribes of
Burma, as well as most of the inhabitants of India and
China, regard this useful shade tree as sacred. No doubt
Buddhist influence has had a great deal to do with this.
The universe is divided into its three natural divisions:
the heavens above (Mdtsaw Ntsang), the earth (Dinghta ga),
and the underworld (Kdtsan ga). But with many the
Kdtsan ga> " the far off country," is identical with ji woi ga,
the ancestral realms, or jatna ga, the gathering place of the
dead. But this question we will discuss more fully in
A myihtoi or prophet ascending the platform. P. 120.
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 121
the chapter on funeral ceremonies and the belief in the
Origin of the religious dance (mdnau). We have in a
previous chapter given an account of this the greatest of
Kachin events. How it originated is told as follows : In
the beginning no one knew the dance. Only the sun-nats
knew the secret and when they danced they called the birds
to participate. The birds accordingly went to the sun-
country and learned the dance. Returning they saw a
banyan tree with ripe fruit. The black-bird skipping about
said, " Let us eat." The Npring bird also began to dance
and said, " Let us eat." Thus while partaking of the fruit
the birds danced the dance of the sun-country. Then
imitating the birds a man Shingra wa Gumja (the all
around good man of the central country), and his wife,
Mddai num Hpraw (the white celestial woman), learned
the dance and introduced it among men.
The first man to die of snake-bite. Once an escaped prisoner
discovered the hole of a snake. That night he slept with
some snake-charmers and told them what he had seen.
Then they urged him, " Show us the place ; " but he replied,
"I am afraid." Then they said, "Show us the place and
you can marry our sister." Besides urging, the youngest
brother took a bamboo and cut it up in pieces about a yard
long indicating that thus he would deal with the snake.
The next older cut the pieces about a foot long, signifying
his superior contempt for the reptile. The oldest, the
bravest of all, cut the pieces a hand-breadth, typifying how
he would make " mince-meat " of any snake however large.
Thus exhibiting their power, the man was induced to show
them the place. As they stood by the hole one of the
snakes came out. The oldest brother tried to hit the snake;
but the sword flew to pieces. The others fared no better.
Being thus disarmed the brothers were drawn into the
hole and killed. From that time on men have died from
How fire was discovered. Once upon a time two men
122 THE KACHINS.
named Numlang and Kumhtan saw smoke arise the other
side of a river named Hkrang hka. Trying to cross, Numlang
was carried down-stream but Kumhtan succeeded, and event*
ually reached the place of the fire. There he saw two
nats in human shape named N Tu and N Htu, man and wife.
The weather was cold and feeling the heat from the flame he
asked them to show him the secret of the fire. They
consented, and promised that if ever the fire went out in his
home or village, a couple bearing their names should by
rubbing bamboo pieces together be able to produce fresh
fire. Kumhtan departed with his secret and after some
time found his lost companion in a village where fire
had never been seen. He gathered some wood and kindled
a fire, but being inexperienced they set the whole village on
fire. From this time on such accidents have ever happened.
The first man burned to death. Some time after the
incident just described, the children of the swine were
preparing a fishing-dam. The rat-catchers and fish-catchers
(all of them nats) were also there. Then said Ninggawn
wa to the children of men, " You go and catch the fish."
The rat-catchers and the others heard it, and after a
certain Mauhte wa had crossed the bridge they severed
some of the bamboos, so when Mauhte wa tried to return
the bridge broke and floated down on the dam. There a
certain widower sat drying his cloth by a fire, and the
timber of the broken bridge caught fire and Mauhte wa
perished. After that the house of a rich family caught fire
and several perished ; the spirit of Mauhte wa has ever
since been abroad and is implicated in every accidental fire.
From these legends have originated the particular customs
observed in the case of a fire. After a house has burned,
every fire in the village is extinguished. A certain individ-
ual impersonates the traditional Mauhte wa. With a
smoking-pipe in his mouth and a bag full of ashes from
the burned house in his hand, he goes around the ruined
house proclaiming that he is Mauhte wa the not of accidental
or incendiary fire. Completing the fourth round he is
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 123
driven away with stones and sticks and chased to the
nearest stream where he drops his bag of ashes, placing
large stones on it. A vessel containing water is buried
in some hill near the entrance of the village so as to
keep the fire-spirit away. A priest is in the meantime
propitiating the genius of fire, " that ought to be a friend,
but has proved to be an enemy." When all is ready, a
man named N Tu and a woman named Ma Htu, are selected
in accordance with the instruction of the spirits at Hkrang
hka. They rub pieces of bamboo together and thus pro-
duce fresh fire. From this fire all the family hearths are
rekindled. (As an N Tu may also be called Tu Lum, and
a Ma Htu may go by the name of Htu Lum, their names
are also given in this story as Tu Lum and Htu Lum).
A somewhat different ceremony is followed in case, as
is quite customary, the site of the destroyed house is
sprinkled. In that case the proceedings are the following :
A water ditch lined with plantain sheets is made from the
higher side of the site. The water runs down to the lower
side where Mauhte is standing. He is dressed in red, with a
smoking cigar made of plantain leaves in his mouth; he
holds a fire-brand in one hand and a small fowl tied to
a string in the other. When the priest is through with
his incantations, he turns to Mauhte and asks, " Who are
you ? " Mauhte replies :
" I am Mauhte, the hero with the broken sword,
I have taken the broken sword and killed a man,
I lighted my cigar and put fire to a house."
Then he goes around the house seven times. At the
seventh time the village people, who have been lying in
wait for him, rush towards him and say, "So you are
Mauhte? You fired the house, did you?" Then they
drive him off with "spears" made of reeds. He runs to
some ravine, where he drops his fire-brand. He is then
stripped of his red clothing, and his cigar is taken away
from him. All of it is thrown into the stream and the party
124 THE KACHINS.
A one-day holiday is always declared after a fire when
no work must be done, and those who feel so inclined
propitiate the " fates." But there is considerable diversity
in regard to ceremonies observed on such occasions,
and many localities have some items all their own. But
there is always something connected with the legend of
Mauhte and his doings. In him we have a personification of
the ' ; fire-spirit " viewed as an enemy and not a friend
The first men killed by accident. Long ago a certain
man named Ldhtwi had a son and a daughter. There lived
also two men named, respectively, Labyu and Ldmyam.
The father wanted the last named for his son-in-law, but the
daughter favored Labyu and he became her husband, At
this juncture a winged monster named Ldhkwi Yawng
captured and carried off the woman. The husband went
everywhere looking for his wife. First of all he met a
man named Myihkyi mdgun, ("dirty-eye"), and asked
him, "Have you seen the Ldhtwi woman?" Dirty-eye
replied, " If you ever find your wife again the dirt in my
eye will be enough to poison the whole of the Irrawaddy."
Then he went on and met a man named Shinglang gdlu,
( " long-leg," lit. long-shin), and asked him the same ques-
tion. Long-leg contemptuously replied, "If you ever
find your wife, let me know and my shins will bridge
the river." Then he saw a man named Pungwum wa,
( "frowzy-head "), and asked him for information. Frowzy-
head laughingly said, "If you ever find your wife my
head will burn for nine whole years." At last he came
to the Hornet enquiring for his lost wife. The Hornet by a
fine thread led him to a cave where the woman was held a
prisoner. As Labyu entered he discovered his wife, and
found that the monster was out hunting. Then the woman
told him, " Make your sword red-hot, and be ready when
Ldhkwi Yawng returns from the hunt ; as soon as he comes
in he will spread out his wings and go to sleep." Labyu
-did as he was told. Presently the monster appeared, and as
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 125
he entered he scented the visitor and said, " I smell the flesh
of a Jinghpaw." The woman replied, "Are you not living
with a Jinghpaw woman ? " Then he spread out his wings
and fell asleep. Ldbyu with his red-hot sword quickly
severed the right wing from his body and fled with his wife.
The monster in vain tried to fly with only one wing.
From that time on men have had the misfortune to be
disabled by the loss of arms or legs. Ldbyu, returning with
his wife, first met Frowzy-head, and as he did not have
hair enough to supply fuel for even a day, he was killed.
Thus men will die from burning. Then he saw Long-leg,
who in vain tried to bridge the Irrawaddy with his shins,
and he was killed. So men will die from recklessness.
Dirty-eye met the same fate on account of his rash
bravado. From this time on men have met a similar
fate. Now the Ldhtwi girl wanted to eat some fruit. Ldbyu
climbed a tree to cut down some, but the spirits of the
murdered men directed his sword to cut off his arms,
legs and neck. When the woman saw what had happened
she said, "Now what will I do?" Her dead husband
answered, " Place a knife between some small branches, then
whistle for the wind and follow me." (The idea being that
the wind, responding to the whistling, would come and
shake the branches, causing the knife to fall and kill
her). This she did and from that time on men have died
from murder, by the instigation of the spirits and in the
desire to follow the departed.
The first man drowned. Once upon a time an orphan
walking along a stream saw a big worm boring into a
tree. He cut out the borer and gave relief to the tree.
Fishing in the stream he cast his net over an alligator.
Being unable to pull him out he tied the rope of the net to
a tree and returned home. The next day the alligator's
daughter, realizing the sad plight of her father, went to
the tree and asked, " Who helped you out of your trouble ? '*'
The tree replied, "The orphan boy." Hearing this she
asked the tree to inform her when the orphan boy would be
126 THE KACHINS.
around. The day after that he came and the daughter was
called. Seeing the boy she said to him, "You helped the
tree, can you not help my father also?" The boy with
an eye to his own advantage said," If I do it what will you
give me ? " The daughter promised to marry him provided
he relieved her father. Then the boy by degrees pulled the
alligator out of the river and on the seventh day relieved
him from the net. True to her promise the daughter
married the boy and they made their home by the river.
Having lived together for some time the wife one day said to
her husband, "All the fish in the river are my brothers,
do not fish with the nine brothers/' He however dis-
obeyed, and went with them a fishing, deciding neither
to eat nor take home any fish. When the nine brothers
saw that he refused to accept any fish, they, out of mischief,
secretly put a small stone-sucker in his bag. Returning
home his wife accused him saying, " You have been a fishing
with the nine brothers, I smell my relatives." He denied
the charge, and as a proof that he had no fish turned
his bag inside out, and the small fish fell out. Then the
wife in grief said, " You have disobeyed my words," and at
once returned to her relatives in the deepest part of the
river. The young husband, disconsolate, came daily and sat
on a rock by the place where his wife had disappeared.
One day the wife said to her father, "The grief of the
orphan boy is great, shall I call him?" Her father said,
"Let him come." So she spread her long hair all over
the rock, and the next time her husband came he sat down
on it, and she dragged him into the water. From that time
on men have died by drowning.
Why the Kachins sacrifice to the nat (spirit) of jealousy.
The Kachins have personified envy and jealousy more
distinctly than any other human failing. They attribute
almost every evil and misfortune to the jealous thoughts
and intentions of someone who cannot bear to see their
fortune or prosperity. The source of it all is traced to the
following incident, reminding us of Cain and Abel. Long
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 127
ago there were two brothers. The older was large in
body, but the younger, while smaller in size, had the most
active mind. When sowing-time came he said to his older
brother, " Let us sow our fields." The older brother asked,
"What shall we sow?" The younger brother in mischief
said, " Sow your field with the scrapings of horns of cattle."
Having given such advice he sowed his own with millet.
The older brother in his innocence made scrapings from
cattle's horns and sowed his field with it. After some time
the older brother said to the younger, "What about your
field ? " The younger one said, " My field is full of sprouts,
how about yours?" to which he received the reply, "My
field is full of small cattle." When the younger brother
realized that fortune had thus favored his weak-minded
brother, he was full of envy, and taking some flour he
painted all the cattle white and said, " The white ones belong
to me." The older brother in anger caused a rain-storm
to wash away the flour, and all returned to their natural
colour except a few who ran under a big tree for shelter
and became striped. The younger brother, far from satisfied
with the outcome of his endeavor, devised a new stratagem
to destroy the elder, and get possession of his herd. So he
said, " Brother, your sister-in-law is dead, let us make her a
coffin." This being done he said, "Now lie down in it
and let us see if it is the right size." The elder brother
doing so, the younger quickly put on the lid and secured it
with strong rattan bands. But the strength of the older
brother was sufficient to effect his release. Stepping out of
the coffin he said to his younger brother, " Now you try it."
The younger did not dare to disobey and the older at once
tied down the lid with cords that could not be broken.
Remembering his brother's endeavors to destroy him he took
the coffin and hung it at a precipice just above a water-fall.
After some time he said to the roaring stream, " Go and call
the man that is hanging over the fall." The stream mis-
understood the order, thinking he had been told to cut
him down and acted accordingly. In Kachin there is a
128 THE KACHINS.
word-play impossible to reproduce: sa gintan yu su, go
and call; sa dan dat su, go and cut down. Thus the
younger brother (N Now) died because of his jealousy
and greed, and to this day the genius (nat) of jealousy
generally called Nsu nat, is also called Nnaw nat. The
meat of sacrifices offered to this nat is never given to
children, so as to keep them from envy and a jealous
How paddy was obtained. Originally paddy was found
only in the land of the sun. Then the children of men went
and asked that they be given some, and their request
was granted. On their return they were compelled to
pass the house of the chameleon, the headman of Kdang
Shingra, who had on former occasions shown his evil
disposition. So they agreed to pass as quietly as possible,
but the quick steps of the pony and the heavy foot-fall
of the buffalo attracted his attention. "Where have you
been," he asked, " and what are you carrying ? " The men
said, " We have been to the land of the sun, and are carrying
back paddy." " Ah," he said, " and what has the Sun-nat
decreed in regard to the size your paddy is to grow ? " The
reply came, "The stalks are to be the size of baffalo's
legs, and the ears as long as a pony's tail." Hearing
this the Chameleon said, " Not at all ; it is quite enough
if the ears are as large as my tail, and the stalks grow
the size of my leg." Hence the Kachins have the proverb,
Shdnyen a ga jdhten ai, meaning that the words of the
despisable chameleon nullified (lit. destroyed) the word
of the mighty sun-nat.
How water was found. Formerly there was no water and
human beings could not boil the rice and thus grew thin
and weak. At that time there was a wise woman named
Sumbwi Nang Mdjan. She made a leech from one of
her fingers and sent it on to the sky to fetch the water, but
the leech never got that far and never found the water.
Then the woman made an eagle from her lap, but while
he soared over the highest mountains, he never reached
MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONS. 129
the sky and failed to find the water. Then the woman
made a yellow bee from one of her fingers, and the bee
succeeded in reaching the sky and filled its mouth with
water. Descending the bee rested on a cinnamon tree,
and wishing to open its mouth the water ran out and
emptied into the trunk of a hollow tree. Then the woman
made a mole from her hand which worked into the tree and
brought out the water in its mouth, but lost it all among
some rocks, trying to pass over a very rocky place. Then
the woman made a crab to find the water among the stones,
but the crab said, "I must have a partner," and so she
made a cicada. Then she gave instructions to both, saying
to the crab, " If you are not back before July and August,
the otter will devour you." To the cicada she said, " If you
do not * sing ' here before the height of summer, the eagle
will pick you up and eat you." Thus the cicada was heard
during the time which now is the height of the rainy season
by a spring outside a village, and the crab now brought the
water to mankind. But the sons of men did not know how
to appreciate the gift until they found that the animals
of the jungle were depositing parts of it here and there
near their dwelling places and planting trees around for
shade. But from that time on the children of men have
sacrificed to the spirit of the rivers and the springs.
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN.
In Chapter XIII we intend to deal with the Kachin
religion, but in order to understand the subject of the
next paragraphs, it is necessary to say a few words regard-
ing the fundamentals of their belief. Like all backward
races, as well as orientals in general, they have a strong
faith in the invisible and are extremely superstitious. Their
faith centers around supernatural beings, called nats, who
are superior to man but inferior to the gods of Greek or
Indian mythology. These nats correspond more closely
to our ideas of demons or evil spirits ; still they are not
all bad, and they are capable of good deeds as well as
evil. The nats determine the destiny of men. Still there
are with many a belief in fate, destiny (auba), in our sense of
the word. But this idea comes from the Shan and Chinese.
The nats follow man from birth to death as his shadow
for good or for bad. They know all his ways and if
disposed can reveal his future. It is this side of their
faith that demands our attention in this chapter. In order
to spy behind the veil of the future the Kachins have their
mediums, diviners, divinations, palmists, sorcerers and
interpreters of dreams, augeries and omens. Nothing is
done without first consulting the spirits. There are rules
and regulations for every important event and business
transaction, and not to observe the regular customs may
cause bad luck and bring disfavor from the nats.
The medium or nat-prophet (myihtoi). The chief oracle
of the spirit world is the nat-prophet, or as he more correctly
ought to be called, the medium. He resembles in almost
every particular the medium who in a trance makes known
the will of the spirits at a spiritualistic seance. His methods
are practically the same, except that he does not need a
132 THE KACHINS.
dark room or closed doors. The results are identical. The
medium may be a man, a woman or a childi; he may
or may not be a priest ; his office is not strictly religious.
Anyone suffering from epilepsy, nervous disorder or hysteria,
is regarded as under the special power of the nats, and it is
from these that the mediums mostly come. In connection
with these natural tendencies, if the individual desires to
profit from his powers, he will practice the usual arts belong-
ing to this branch of the nat-worship, and will soon be able
to place himself en rapport with the spirit world almost
at will. For cash or other material considerations he will,
when called upon, reveal the will of the nats. These
prophets (lit. the men with the 'enlightened eye), are held in
great respect and awe, and at death are not buried until
the seventh day for fear that they are not really dead,
but simply on a journey to the nat-country. They have
as a rule a high " airy," reached by a tall bamboo ladder
erected outside their abode, and in this they receive their
inspiration; but they may get in touch with the nats
anywhere and at any time. Extraordinary stories are
afloat regarding the power and supernatural ability of
the mediums, and some of them have been credited even
by Europeans. We give here a graphic account by Dr.
Anderson, as reprinted in "The Upper Burma Gazetteer,"
as it shows the myihtoi at his best, and how the performance
was regarded by the observers. It took place when Colonel
Sladen in 1868 was attempting to reach Momein via Bhamo
and the Kachin hills.
" The mi-tway (myihtoi) now entered and seated himself
on a small stool in one corner (of the house), which had
been freshly sprinkled with water; he then blew through
a small tube and, throwing it from him with a deep groan, at
once fell into an extraordinary state of tremor : every limb
quivered, and his feet beat a literal devil's tattoo on the
bamboo flooring. He groaned as if in pain, tore his hair,
passed his hands with maniacal gestures over his head
and face, then broke into a short, wild chant, interrupted
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 133
with sighs and groans, his features appearing distorted
with madness or rage, while the tones of his voice changed
to an expression of anger or fury. During this extraordi-
nary scene, which realized all one had read of demoniacal
possession, the Sawbwa (village chief) and his pawmaings
(advisers) occasionally addressed him in low tones as if
soothing him or deprecating the anger of the dominant
spirit; and at last the Sawbwa informed Sladen that the
nats must be appeased with an offering. Fifteen rupees
and some cloth were produced : the silver on a bamboo
sprinkled with water, and the cloth on a platter of plantain
leaves were humbly laid at the diviner's feet, but with
one convulsive jerk of the legs, rupees and cloth were
instantly kicked away, and the medium by increased con-
vulsions and groans intimated the dissatisfaction of the nats
with the offerings. The Sawbwa in vain supplicated for
its acceptance and then signified to Sladen that more
rupees were required and mentioned sixty as the propitiatory
sum. Sladen tendered five more with the assurance that
no more could be given. The amended offering was again,
but more gently pushed away, of which no notice was
taken. After another quarter of an hour, during which the
convulsions and groans gradually became less violent, a
dried leaf rolled into a cone and filled with rice was handed
over to the mi-tway. He raised it to his forehead several
times and then threw it on the floor. A da (long knife)
which had been carefully washed, was next handed over
to him and treated in the same way ; and after a few gentle
sighs he rose from his seat and laughing, signed to us
to look at his arms and legs, which were very tired.
The oracle was in our favor, and predictions of all manner
of success were interpreted to us as the utterance of the
Dr. Anderson assures us as he continues his account,
"It must not be supposed that this was a solemn farce
enacted to conjure rupees out of European pockets. The
Kakhyens (Kachins) never undertake any business or journey
134 THE KACHINS.
without consulting the will of the nats as revealed by a
mitway under the influence of a temporary frenzy, or, as
they deem it, possession." A more intimate knowledge
of the Kachins would have modified these last statements.
The medium is consulted only on more important occasions
such as the one on hand. In some localities certain cheap
prophets may be consulted about almost anything, but
this is not the rule. It is strange, however, that so keen
an observer as Dr. Anderson should have failed to see
that most of this performance was nothing else but a " farce
enacted to conjure rupees out of European pockets." The
mere fact that twenty rupees were accepted when it became
clear that sixty would not be given, would give the clue
to this. The frenzy, the groaning and convulsions were
all there, the prophet is an adept in this, but he was never so
completely under the spell, but that he had a keen eye
to business. Fifteen rupees is a princely sum for any
prophet and under ordinary conditions he would have been
satisfied with a fraction of this, but here was an expedition
headed by Englishmen with an iron box full of silver.
The propet correctly divined that a man who could afford to
give fifteen rupees could give more, and hence the " kick."
The nats, however, had to take it good naturedly, when
they realized that the Kola (foreigner) would give only
five more. This business instinct is quite characteristic
of not only the mediums, but of other professional diviners.
They always know about how much their clients are willing
and able to pay, and they formulate their replies and
Other stories regarding the wondrous things a medium
can do when under the spell are quite numerous. He can
cut his tongue and lips, and the blood will flow, but in
an instant he is healed again when coming out of the
trance. He can walk up a ladder "the steps of which
consist of sword blades with the sharp edges turned
upwards." I have never yet found a prophet willing to
give an exhibition along these lines, even though I have
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 135
offered substantial reward, provided I was allowed to closely
examine the proceedings. The intimation always is that
such inspection on my part would discourage the nats t
which is no doubt true. Besides, I have never found a
Kachin, who when closely questioned, could say that he
has actually seen it himself. They all believe it has been
done or can be done, just as a Shan or a Burman believes in
invulnerability, even though they have never seen an
invulnerable individual. Of course a small knowledge of
legerdemain, or the art of the Indian juggler, can easily
produce a bloodly tongue and mouth; and as for stepping
on the edges of swords or sitting on bamboo spikes, it
does not require a great deal of skill to deceive a crowd
of unlookers who are not at all troubled with any " higher
criticism " on the subject. A few have learned the simpler
forms of jugglery from the Chinese, but the art is not
The diviner (ningwawt). The diviner is more of a pro-
fessional than the medium. He is very often a priest
(ningwawt-dumsa) , but not always. Divination is not con-
fined to the religious sphere, and the diviner is primarily
a man who ascertains the will and wishes of the spirits
in anything that pertains to the affairs of the individual
or the community. If he is also a priest his combined
office gives him a great deal of power and influence. If,
as is often the case, he is an old gray-haired man, both
young and old stand in awe of him, as it is the belief that he
is in especially close relation to the spirit-world. It need
hardly be said that he has it in his power to interpret
the will of his supernatural advisers much to his own
advantage. He can always procure the kind of sacrifice
that will give him the best return for his time and trouble.
He can give anyone whom he dislikes an unpleasant time,
as he can threaten all kinds of punishments from the
spirits. Still it must not be thought that the diviner,
any more than the medium, is altogether an impostor or
a humbug. They believe in the spirit-world and in the
136 THE KACHINS.
activity of the nats. When their guesses and divinations
come true, they always regard it as a direct favor from
the spirits ; when the opposite proves to be the case, they
feel sure that some mistake has been made from their
side, and thus the favor has been withheld. But being in
possession of the power and influence their position secures
them, it is only natural that they should use it somewhat to
their personal advantage.
Divination. There is probably nothing in which our
Kachins so firmly believe as in the efficacy of divination.
If a child is born, a woman married or an individual buried ;
if a house is built or burned ; a journey begun or a business
transaction ended ; if a person is ill, or has suffered mis-
fortune ; if the lightning has struck or a man-eating tiger is
roaming about ; in fact in almost any situation of importance
it is necessary to call the diviner who by his art ascertains
the will of the nats, the cause of the trouble and the
sacrifice demanded. Divination is an important factor in
the religious life of the community, but is capable of a
wider application. If cattle have gone astray, their where-
abouts may be determined by the use of the divining
bamboo ; if a thief or a witch is troubling the community,
the easiest way to detect him may be by the art of divina-
tion. Lucky and unlucky days, the outcome of a hunt,
a trading expedition, a raid or a venture in gambling,
may be disclosed by consulting the nats by the help of
There are numerous methods of divination. The Kachins
have no objection to try the merits of any form or method
that may come under their observation. Hence we find
Chinese methods, such as the use of an egg, some kinds
of plants and bones of fowls, in use among those who
live near the Chinese frontier. In the Shan States leading
Kachin diviners employ the magic square, rice and some
cabalistic writings on palm leaves. The Atsis make use
of thirty-three bamboo splints about the length of knitting
needles, some of them carved at the top-end. These are
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 137
thrown up and tossed in such a way that they fall haphazard
between the clefts of the fingers. The odd sticks in each
group are picked out and laid aside. The process is repeated
three times. If the result is an even number of sticks,
the reply is favorable ; if it is an odd number, it is unfavor-
able. Those who have learned to read Shan are guided
by the Shan manuscripts on the subject. But these and
similar methods are introduced from the outside. The
genuine ways of Kachin divination are only three.
a. By the use of a stone attached to a string or shaken
and held in certain positions in the hands. This according
to tradition is the oldest form of divination, but it is today
practiced or understood by only a few of the Northern
b. By the use of a small bamboo called shaman. This
is the most common and the most reliable way. The
bamboo is praised and lauded, is called the Kachin book,
the heavenly bamboo, the gift of the nat of wealth. The
diviner sits on a low stool, and holding the bamboo over
a slow fire he mutters a charm or incantation admonishing
the bamboo not " to lie " or " mislead " those seeking infor-
mation. Two of these bamboos are always carried at the
same time; to carry only one indicates that he is about
to measure a corpse for a coffin. The bamboo being held
over the fire for a short while, it bursts joint by joint
with a loud report, and from the position of the hairy
fibres that stand out on each side of the fracture the
will of the nats is interpreted. If the fibres stand out,
crossing each other, it indicates that the nats desire a
large offering on a cross. If they stand straight up, the
meaning is doubtful and new experiments must be made.
If leaning to one side or other, it means that eggs, fowls
or pigs are desired. But there are many ways to interpret
the position of these fibres, and it is left more or less to the
fancy or usage of the particular diviner or locality.
c. By the shdba lap. This is a long leaf, resembling
those of the cannae, with sharp veins running parallel
138 THE KACHINS.
and not interlacing. The leaf is torn following the veins,
and a number of shreds are thus produced which are
taken haphazard, twisted and tied together. The diviner
mutters his charms and prayers imploring the desired
result. The knots and strands contained in each division are
then counted and the outcome is determined from the
number on each side and whether they are even or odd.
Repeated trials are required, and this method is not as
sure or effective as that with the divining bamboo.
Auguries. The belief in auguries is not as strong as
in divination. It is resorted to only to a limited degree.
The bones of the legs of fowls and the spleen of a hog,
and in some localities the entrails of cattle, are used in
forecasting the future. Some following a Chinese custom
draw auguries from the head of a fowl killed in a certain
way. At a wedding in the Gauri hills a young hen is taken
to represent the bride. Some old man pronounces a charm,
holding the hen before the elephant grass which the
bride has passed. The hen is then let go. If it makes
a bee-line for the house it is considered a good sign,
the bride will be a home-maker and bring prosperity. If
the hen starts off for the jungle, it is a sign that she
will draw away from the home, squander rather than gather.
I have not seen this custom followed in other parts of
the country, but it may be. The calling of the owl near
a house is a bad sign, and the falling of a large tree
indicates the death of some leading man. But there is
a great diversity in regard to these things, and in each
community there may be some particular kind of belief
belonging only to that locality.
Omens. There are two kinds of omens. Those called
numdaw numdaw, meaning animals crossing one's path,
(lit. impeding one's progress). Merely to see an animal
by the roadside has no meaning, but if certain kinds
cross the path it has its significance. The other kind is
drawn from the calling of birds or beasts and from almost
anything out of the ordinary. If a snake, porcupine or
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 139
wild cat crosses one's path, some of your friends will die,
or your undertaking will not prosper. If a deer, hedgehog
or rhinoceros crosses the path, it is a good omen, luck is
on your side. The only exception is the barking deer;
if one of those run across, bad reports will follow. If
you see weasels playing or fighting, it is a bad sign ; they
will entice the human spirit to stray and wander. If two
barking deer call at the same time outside a village, illness
or fire will follow. If young cattle stray into a house,
or go up the roof, the nats are after them and they are
destined soon to be sacrificed, which means that illness
will visit the house. A ring around the sun signifies the
death of a chief. Crows calling in a peculiar way outside a
house bring messages from friends just deceased. Hence
there is a proverb, " He does not even utter the sound of
the crow," which means that an old friend has so completely
forgotten his former associates that he never sends them
any message or token of regard. If the steps of a jungle
animal are seen around a newly dug grave, some relatives
will soon follow. Thus the immediate surroundings of a
grave are carefully inspected the morning after burial.
If the boiling rice " breaks " in the pot and does not adhere
in one lump, some accident will happen to someone in
the house. If soot falls from the roof into food that is
being, prepared, it is a bad sign. If rats build nests in a
grave, the relatives of the interred will be poor. These
are a few of the bad omens; the good, which are few,
are hardly ever mentioned.
Dreams. Primitive man has always paid a great deal
of attention to dreams. The Kachins are no exception.
The meaning is sought of almost every dream, and most of
the older men know the rules regulating their interpretation.
The following is some of the wisdom along this line. To
dream about a broken tree, the setting sun or moon, is
unfortunate; it presages a speedy death. To dream that
young fowls on the back porch are scattered is bad, to
dream that they are gathered is good, A dream about
140 THE KACHINS.
the horn-bill is a presentiment of power and influence.
A dream about large cattle is good ; the spirits are replenish-
ing your stables. To dream about slaves, trade, fruit, a
flowering tree, growing bamboo, a heap of stone or a herd
of hogs, indicates that your family will increase and that
fortune is yours. To see in the visions of the night an
old paddy house, or a swarm of bees at the top of your
house is a good morning dream, you will have abundance.
Apparently the Kachin interpreter of dreams is not inclined
to think that these things always go by opposites.
Charms. All the races and tribes of Burma are firm
believers in the protecting power of charms, and most
men always have with them at least some object to
ward off danger. All over Burma can be found implements
from the stone and bronze age, and these are universally
believed to be " thunder-bolts," and are kept in the houses to
ward off fire. In case of complications at child-birth, by
placing a stone-knife or arrow-head on the top of the head
of the labouring woman all difficulties will disappear. This
belief in the reality of the "thunder-bolt" and its power
and efficacy is very common, even among highly intelligent
natives. Precious stones, tusks of the wild boar, and pieces
of charmed metals inserted under the skin are very desir-
able objects in time of war. A powerful charm, obtained
from a certain kind of bird, the skull of a killed man or
the hand of an abortion, called warn, will make a man
invisible. Tattooing to secure invulnerability has been
introduced by the Shans. Many of the Kachin chiefs and
leading men living in the Northern Shan States have
been tattooed with the magic square on their backs, and
other cabalistic figures on shoulders and arms. The
fact that these bear Buddhist inscriptions does not make
any difference to the ^/-worshipping Kachins. By the help
of the nats an evil disposed person can send a missile, called
lawng, in the form of a knife, needle, bone, piece of leather
or the like, right into the heart or the liver of an -enemy,
and special charms are worn to ward off such danger. The
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 141
tusk of the wild-boar, which will grow after the animal
is dead, and the jaw-bone of a tiger, are regarded as
especially helpful when hunting, or when traveling in wild
jungle. As with the Burmans and Shans, so the Kachins
firmly believe in the power of these charms, even though they
see them fail over and over again. That there is some way
of securing complete protection from physical violence they
never doubt, and the necromancer's assistance is eagerly
Rules to insure good luck. Good or bad luck accounts
for nearly everything in the small affairs of everyday life,
and luck has something to do with the nats, or the myste-
rious something that like a shadow always follows human
beings. There are rules to be observed in almost everything
pertaining to commerce, industry, and the social side of
life. Every community has some particular reason for some
custom or observance, probably not recognized anywhere
else, and thus such rules become too numerous to be
mentioned in detail. It is enough to indicate the general
trend, which is the same everywhere. A hunter looking for
game must not speak to anyone that he may meet. Should
he disclose his purpose he is sure to be unsuccessful. He
will also be guided by the omens mentioned above. Return-
ing with a bag the village priest hkinjawng cuts off the part
of the flesh intended for the nats, and an offering is present-
ed at the altar of the house-nats. In some localities certain
kinds of plants are blessed and kept as a charm (shan tsi,)
to facinate and entice the game of the jungle. Where
this is the case the hunter must sprinkle some of the
blood toward the plant in order to propitiate the genius of
the hunt. If there is a chase, and the whole village is
concerned, it must first be ascertained by divination if
the day is propitious and the nats are in favor. Some
guns, traps or snares are more " lucky " than others. The
"spirit," genius or "life" of a good gun (sdmyeng) is
sometimes seen "playing" or "dancing" on the gun;
this is always a good sign and such a weapon is sure to
142 THE KACHINS.
kill. If a gun, trap or snare be handled in a way displeas-
ing to the nats, luck is gone and nothing will be hit or
caught. In fishing very much the same rules are observed.
Not to speak to anyone on the road, not to expect too
much, and even if there is a good haul to speak of it in
a deprecating manner, are important rules to observe.
Everyday life is hedged about with similar customs and
observances. A person must not crawl under the bars
at the stable entrance. He must not crawl under a house,
as there may be women in the house, and it is very unfortu-
nate if a man at any moment finds himself at a lower
elevation than a woman. To dress a man in a woman's
skirt is not only dishonoring him, it will make him unlucky.
No one must step over a person asleep or when simply
reclining, and a woman must never step across the rope
or a pole that may happen to be in her way. She must
remove it or pass under it. A Kachin does not wish to
have anything said in regard to possible misfortune and
death. A malicious, or even a playful insinuation or
suggestion is deeply resented. It establishes what he calls
an ana akra, an unpleasant foreboding, or an invisible
" brand " which before the nats may mark him as a doomed
The number nine is the sacred number in Kachin lore,
but otherwise it does not have any particular significance.
There is no especial meaning attached to it in regard to
life nowadays. Only formerly everything revolved around
the number nine.
Ordeals. It is quite natural that to a people so full of
superstition, the ancient custom of appealing to ordeals
should not be unknown. Some of the most common forms
are the following. An accused party may prove the falsity
of the charge by dipping the hand into boiling water or
melting lead. If no harm comes to the person on trial
innocence is established. Nowadays this severe test is
(wisely) never resorted to, and milder forms are taking
its place. An egg is broken, and the defendant dips
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 143
the end of a stalk of elephant grass into the yolk ; if any
of the yellow adheres to the grass he is guilty, if not he
Formerly a common test was to invoke the lightning to
strike one dead if guilty. The village priest conducted
the proceedings. The contending parties sat facing each
other, each with a long pole in his hand. The priest
reciting his incantations implored the nat of thunder to
indicate the guilty. As he finished, the lightning, it may
be from a perfectly clear sky, would strike and kill the
offender on the spot. No one nowadays pretends to be
able to work this miracle.
The water-test is, however, still practiced. The accused
and his friends stand on one side of a river, and the accuser
and his party stand on the opposite. Cattle, money or
household goods are brought forth, and in the presence
of witnesses it is agreed that if the accused is proved
innocent his accusers must deliver all they have brought to
him, if the opposite proves to be the case he must lose
all on his side. After due ceremonies of the priest, the
chief parties from both sides go down into the stream. The
guilty party finds it impossible to put his head under the
water, while he does it with ease if innocent. This would
seem to be a particularly easy test, provided the guilty
party did not allow his imagination to run away with
him. Other forms borrowed from Shans and Burmans
are also resorted to, but this kind of trial is getting more
and more uncommon, as the people have more confidence in
British justice than in the impartiality of the nats.
Witch-craft. The belief in witches and wizards is common
all over Burma, and has been recognized by law and
custom. From a Kachin point of view a witch is a person
"with two souls," one his own and the other belonging
to a nat. The individual may or may not be conscious
of the fact. He has the power to " harm others by
an occult influence," but it is not necessary that he should
be aware that he is thus bent on mischief. This is discovered
144 THE KACHINS.
by the rules of divination, and the witch (it may be
an individual or a whole family) never knows that he
was taken possession of by a witch-nat until informed
by the diviner. Two kinds of witch-spirits are recognized :
the Idmum, which is comparatively harmless, causing sores
or minor troubles, and the yu (the rat) which in the shape of
a rat enters and " eats out the inside " of a man. Convul
sions, festering sores, misfortunes to cattle and horses
are usually attributed to the yu.
When a person has been taken suddenly ill, and by
divination it has become clear that a witch is at work,
the first step is to find out the guilty party. This can
as a rule be revealed only by the bewitched person himself.
The spirit that has made him ill will through him make
known what individual he belongs to. That individual
may be a most unwilling party to the work he is doing.
Sometimes it takes a great deal of coaxing and arguing
with many threats or promises, to induce the spirit to
reveal its identity. Promises are made, that " if you reveal
yourself no harm will be done to the person you belong to ; ''
" you will receive any gift you ask for ; " " all we want
is to know who you are, what you desire and your every
wish will be granted," and more to that effect. When,
however, their object is gained, a different tale will be
told. The unfortunate party or family may be driven away
from home and village or sold into slavery. It is easy
to see how this superstition would in the hands of unscrupu-
lous persons be a powerful weapon against anyone toward
whom they held a grudge. He could accuse anyone and there
was really no way to prove that he was wrong. A man
of influence, backed up by the priests and other leading men,
could accuse anyone he pleased and he would be disposed
of as just described or even killed. A large number of
the slaves all over the Hills are such unfortunate men and
women who have been charged with being possessed by these
Black cats, if found in witch-families, are said to have the
Priest beseeching the nats.
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 145
power to cause the death of rats or fowls by merely looking
at them. If such a cat jumps over a corpse lying in state, it
will cause the spirit of the dead person to wander and stray
from the road it ought to take. If an individual, or a
family become convinced that they are really the mediums
through which the spirits do their mischief, they may make
a public confession and at a sacrifice make a promise that in
case it again becomes clear that the witch-spirits through
them are doing harm, they will agree to be sold into
slavery, or even to be punished with death. This is intend-
ed more as a warning to the spirit than to its unwilling
human instrument. There are no remedies known for
witches. Some carry charms to protect them against this
evil, but no one can be sure. Some bewitch by merely
looking at a person. This reminds us of the " evil eye,"
and children are especially susceptible to this influence.
Many of the trinkets or plugged coins worn by children
are really charms to guard against this form of evil. In
olden time if an individual died, being "bewitched," his
family or tribe would often apply the "lynch law," and
either kill or enslave the family without any further consul-
tation with chiefs and elders. Many of the Kachins cannot
understand why the British law protects witches, and
why they are not allowed to dispose of them according
to old customs and traditions. With them there is no doubt
that the danger is real, and they fully believe that only
the most drastic measures will be of any use.
Cursing, (mdtsa dat ai). If an unpardonable offence
has been committed and the guilty party refuses to submit
to a fine or settlement on fair terms, the sufferer may resort
to the expedient of " sending a curse," by which with the
help of the nats the offender will suffer bodily affliction
and even death.
The sa hye mdraw, the "fate causing dysentery," is
the evil genius usually invoked and sent on the mission
of cursing and punishing the intended victim. A priest
familiar with the " service " of this nat is called and in
146 THE KACHINS.
the deepest secrecy he with the instigator plans the details.
The priest receives a handsome present if his curse is
effective, at all events he is given a sword or a spear. It is
important that the victim should know nothing about what
is going on, as the curse may be ineffective and a heavy
fine will be imposed upon the "curser" if anything leaks
By divination it is ascertained what kind of an offering
is required. It must be either a dog, a hog or a goat*
Besides, as supplementary offerings are provided (1) seven
bamboo sections filled with soil from the stable ; (2) a very
offensive smelling kind of fruit ; (3) wild ginger and dried
fish, and (4) a species of ground-rat (magan). These are
made up into seven packages, placed in seven bamboos,
rolled in seven plantain leaves. Seven stalks of tall elephant
grass and seven stalks of a large reed are pointed and
placed with the offerings.
The imprecation always takes place at evening, and in
order that no one may suspect the real nature of the
proceedings it is intimated that he is expelling the nat of
malediction from his own house. When the priest is
done with the preliminaries and has recited his formulas
of "cursing," the " imprecator," the priest, and five or
six trusted companions, go out on the road leading to
the victim's house or village. There they select a cinnamon
tree and to this is tied the main sacrifice. The supplemen-
tary offerings are tied around the trunk of the tree.
The priest begins the imprecations proper, invoking
all kinds of calamaties to visit the victim. During this
he holds a stalk of the reed and elephant grass in his
hand balancing them like a spear. Finishing the list of
his curses he throws the "spear," aiming at the offerings
tied to the tree. If it hits and remains right in the center of
one of them, it is a sure sign that the curse is effective.
The priest having thrown his spear, others present do
the same, and each is aimed at the heart of the enemy.
If guns are used the tree is riddled with bullets. When
IN QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN. 147
all is ended and the party is ready to return, the sacrifice
(usually a dog) is killed, and either buried at the place
or hung up near the tree, as indicated by the diviner.
In regard to all these ways of looking into the future it is
interesting to notice how similar practices are found among
all the related tribes and races of eastern Asia. It is
impossible to claim originality for any one tribe or people*
It all belongs to the common deposit, and beliefs, rules
and customs have found their way from north to south*
from east to west, only being modified as they have
been adopted by one tribe or another. There is no
absolute uniformity in customs even among the same clan
or family. In the case of witchcraft, for instance, some
Kachins follow a practice which may in reality be Shan
or Burmese. When the witch has made known its identity,
and told (of course through the afflicted person), what
"presents" are required, these are placed in a basket
and carried outside. If the spirit is satisfied, the afflicted
party will at once "feel better," and gradually improve
as the witch-spirit has taken its departure. If on the other
hand the party grows worse, other measures must be
resorted to. A sacrifice may be offered in the jungle in
which the people of the house must not partake, and other
offerings may be made as directed by divination.
Magic, in the proper sense of the word, is not an
important part. Magicians are few, and those who know
how to practice the " black art " are still fewer. The belief
is growing that in these degenerate days, when books
and the ways of the kala take the place of the ancestral
" wisdom," these secrets are rapidly being forgotten, and the
supernatural powers who assisted in all these things are
not able to show their particular abilities as they did
formerly. It is the complaint of the negro preacher over
again, that too many questions spoil all our theology.
THE KACHIN RELIGION.
We have already mentioned that the religion common
to all the Kachin tribes is spirit worship or demonolatry.
It is Shamanism or animism in a form peculiarity adapted to
the habits and intellectual development of a semi-savage
mountain people. The term nat-worship generally employed
in Burma, defines more clearly than any other the special
form of animism common to the whole of eastern Asia.
All the Mongolian tribes and races are at heart animists,
whatever form of religion they may otherwise profess.
A Chinaman or a Burman is as truely a spirit worshipper
as a Chin or a Kachin. Rituals, ceremonies, creeds and
forms of expression will differ, but back of it all lingers the
primitive faith in spirits, demons, nats, or whatever they
may be called. The great ethnic religions of Asia have
never been able to eradicate the deep-rooted belief among
the masses, that ghosts, spirits, demons, angels or devils,
are able to interfere in the affairs of men. All over India
and in Mohammedan countries nothing is more in evidence
than the shrine to some departed saint, some guardian
spirit, or miniature god or goddess of hardly more than
local importance. Even in Europe some of these forms
of superstition are still in evidence among the less educated.
In the Kachin Hills we can still read the ancestral story, in
nearly its original form, of many a tribe and race that
has advanced to a higher form of faith. It is from this
point of view that the religion of backward races is of
especial importance to the student of religious evolution.
But apart from this, if we wish to understand the heart
and mind of a savage tribe, we must know their forms
of worship and their religious fears and hopes. The savage
is far more religious than his civilized brother. Religion
150 THE KACHINS.
is of the very first importance to him. Everything he
does can be traced to some form of belief, to some religious
custom and superstition. His whole social and family life is
regulated by his religious practices, and in his work or
amusement he is always under the shadow of his invisible
guardians or tormentors. They follow him as his own
shadow from the cradle to the grave.
It is difficult to induce a Kachin to reveal the mysteries of
his faith. From a secret dread of the nats he will keep
back, even when closely questioned, the most interesting
and important details. Besides, the ordinary Kachin is
no more familiar with the intricacies of his elaborate ritual
than are the uninitiated with the particulars belonging
to higher forms of faith. He follows the leadership of
the priests, and those that attend to the sacrificial service. It
is enough for him to observe the rules and regulations
elaborated by custom and usage from ancestral times. The
hill tribes have for centuries been in contact with the
great oriental religions ; but neither Buddhism, Confucianism
nor Hinduism have attracted or influenced them in any
important particulars. A few have accepted a degenerate
form of Shan Buddhism, and some Chinese customs are
traceable here and there, but the great mass of our illiterate
mountaineers hold the ancestral faith, and sacrifice to
Back of the spirit worship in its most developed forms
we find ancestor worship, nekrolatry, the fear of the departed,
the awe in the presence of death. Among the Chinese
and Japanese we meet this faith in its most advanced stage;
among semi-savages it retains the primitive features. Even
the higher nats were once nothing but ordinary mortals;
but passing out from the mundane sphere they became
invested with supernatural powers, and thus became the
objects of fear, reverence and worship. To propitiate and
appease such "shades," who as a rule exhibit a jealous
and vindictive disposition, is the great objective in the
Kachin ritual. How to do it is his one absorbing question.
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 151
These spirits, demons, shades or nats, are innumerable
and occupy every imaginable place above and below.
They rule the sun, the moon and the sky. They dwell
on every mountain top, in every spring, lake or stream.
Every waterfall, cave or precipitous rock will have its
guardian, as well as every wood, field or large tree. Each
village, tribe or family, may have their particular divinities
to whom special attention is due. The supernatural intru-
ders have nothing in common with the old classic gods
or goddesses, and only a distant relationship with the
fairies, fates, kobolds, trolls and hobgoblins of mediaeval
Europe. The delightful inhabitants of Teutonic or Scandi-
navian fairy-land, or the sylvan denizens that entertain
us in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," do not thrive in
the forests and bamboo groves of the Kachin hills.
The Kachins live in constant dread of the nats, who are
always ready to take revenge if trespasses, knowingly
or unknowingly, are committed. If the usual sacrifices
are withheld ; if a vessel, shrine or altar belonging to the
sacrificial service has been desecrated ; if anyone has stepped
into the place set apart for the guardian household nats,
or if without any apparant reason whatsoever a spirit
capriciously desires a fresh offering, some misfortune will
befall the unfortunate individual, family or community.
Houses will burn, fields be devastated, the crops will fail,
bad luck will follow every undertaking, illness or epidemics
will visit men and beasts, and misery, poverty and death
will follow. The nats alone can re-establish fortune and
happiness and in the case of disease administer the remedies ;
but not being of a compassionate nature, they never render
assistance unless properly propitiated. Thus the life of
a Kachin is one long struggle against adverse powers,
one continuous effort to keep on the good side of the always
There is no clear trace of totemism among the Kachins.
The fact that there is a prescribed form of names for all
the children does not indicate any belief in a family or
152 THE KACHINS.
tribal totem. The explanation of this custom has already
been given; in these names are perpetuated the names
of the primitive spirits, but these cannot be called totems.
Of a primitive fetichism there are only very faint indications.
The use of charms and amulets goes back to ancestral
times ; but the objects now used are mostly obtained from
the Shans and Chinese. Tatooing is a late introduction
from the Shan, and those who live away from Shan commu-
nities hardly ever submit to the practice. Trees, rocks
or animals are never worshipped even though they may
be regarded as inhabited by nats, and no images of any
kind are ever made or used.
The priesthood. In every village are found certain
individuals attending to the religious need of the community.
They are as a rule the most intelligent and best informed,
but are not distinguished by dress, habits or morals. There
is no ecclesiastical organization, but certain grades are
recognized, and the duties of each are clearly defined. The
priest alone is familiar with the religious language chanted
at the sacrificial service. There are special formulas,
addressing the different orders of nats, celestial, terrestrial
and ancestral, and only the initiated are familiar with
contents and phraseology. The priest is generally a leading
diviner, who by his art ascertains what nat is in evidence
and what offering is required.
The highest religious authority is the Jaiwa, a kind of
high-priest, who officiates on special occasions. He is
usually an old, gray-haired man. He is familiar with every-
thing concerning history, tradition and religion. At a great
wedding or at the religious dance (mdnau), he rehearses
the whole Kachin history, from creation to our own times,
taking three days and nights for this really marvellous
feat of memory. It is all recited in rhythmic language,
abounding, as do all the religious formulas, in parallelism
and alliterations. He is supposed never to make a mistake
as to form and substance, but the vocabulary and phraseology
are left to a large extent to the choice of the individual. It is
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 153
a mistake to think that the long and tiresome rhapsodies
recited on such occasions are all a meaningless jargon. A
large part of the vocabulary is antiquated, or echoes
reminiscences from an earlier past, but it is understood
by " the elders " and is used among them in general conver-
sation. Women and children may know very little of
what is said, but all have a general idea as to meaning and
importance. Anyone wishing to become a Jaiwa, or a
priest, must learn the formulas and pay the price for
instruction. The Jaiwa is liberally paid for his services,
usually with cattle and gongs.
Next to the Jaiwa 'comes the regular priest (dumsa).
Three grades may be recognized : those who can pronounce
a blessing on ordinary occasions; those authorized to
sacrifice to the ancestral spirits (tsu dumsa); and those who
minister to the terrestrial and celestial nats (ga dumsa).
The first class can offer only water, liquor, eggs and dried
fish; the second class can in addition to these offer fowls
and pigs, while the third reaches the height of sacrificing
cattle, particularly buffaloes. Ordinarily the priest officiates
in his everyday garb, but when addressing the Mu (celestial)
nat he may put on something of a robe or gown, waving
before him a bunch of tall elephant grass; and when
the nat of wealth (mddai) is invoked, he wears a mitre
ornamented with feathers, tusks and sometimes flowers. A
part of the hind-quarter of the animal sacrificed goes to the
priest for his services.
As a subordinate and assistant to the priest comes the
hkinjawng, who officiates at the putting up of the altar,
and cutting up of the sacrifice. If fowls are offered he
hangs them at the alter in small baskets, and after the
blessing is pronouned kills them by strangling. When
larger sacrifices are on the programme he selects and
arranges such parts as are intended for the nats, and
presents the partakers with their portions. There is in
connection with this a most minute and elaborate ritual that
must be seen to be understood. The arranging of the
154 THE KACHINS.
leaves used for wrapping purposes, and the kind of meat to
be placed on each has been developed into a fine art.
He takes a small piece of each part of the sacrifice (a piece
of thigh, shoulder, heart, liver, kidney etc.,) and wraps
them up in small packages and presents them on the
ttflf-altar. This functionary is paid with a part of the neck
if it is a large offering, and a leg if it is a fowl.
As an assistant to the hkinjawng comes the hpunglum,
who may be either a man or a woman. But on important
occasions, when offerings are made to the celestial nats,
(mu, sinlap, bunghpoi or mddai), only men are admitted. It
then becomes his duty to kill (usually to spear) the sacrifice.
In addition the hpunglum attends to the pouring of the
libations, keeps the kettles boiling, and in general does
the menial work of the occasion.
The medium (prophet) and diviner mentioned in the
previous chapter may or may not officiate in a religious
capacity. Their work is not confined to the religious sphere.
Divination is always an important part in every case when
offerings are made ; but this may, and generally is, attended
to by the priests.
Offerings. The Kachin nats are not over particular as
to what is offered, and there is no distinction between clean
and unclean animals. Thus may be presented water, liquor,
rice, vegetables, rats, moles, squirrels, dried or fresh
fish, prawns, eggs, fowls, pigs, cows and buffaloes. Goats
and dogs are offered to the nat of insanity and the " fates "
of accident. Dogs are generally offered in the Hokung
valley where ordinarily would be presented fowls or small
pigs, and in some localities "the barker" is killed to
keep away the nat causing death in confinement (sawn)
and the cruel genius of solitary places (Jdhtung). All
smaller offerings are given whole, wrapped up in leaves
and hung or placed on the shrine or altar, or placed in
appropriate places in the house, as occasion demands.
Water and liquor are presented in bamboo sections ; eggs
are strung up on bamboo splits and are seen hanging
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 155
anywhere about the house, but especially near the front
door, where they are presented to the not causing sores,
and at the back corner where the family altar is. When
hogs or cattle are sacrificed, only a very small portion goes
to the nats. The individual sacrificing, the chief and the
priests, appropriate the most desirable portions, and the
whole village has a feast. The nat in question is supposed
to be satisfied with the " life," which is housed and kept
"a hundred years" in the celestial stables. We have
already mentioned the tradition regarding the "fruit of
life." Another version has it that when men became mortal,
having displeased the sun-nats, the domestic animals entered
the garden by the side of the house of the first men.
There the fowls ate the fruit of the plant of life, the cattle
devoured the leaves and the hogs went for the roots. Thus
the plant was killed and men complained. The guilty
parties then promised that as they had destroyed the health
and life-giving plant they would submit to become substi-
tutes for man, giving up their lives for his. This tradition
is always recited as an excuse for taking an innocent animal
life whenever cattle are sacrificed.
Nat-altars. We have in Chapter III given a general idea
of the places sacred to the nats, and mentioned the shrines
or altars used as receptacles for the offerings. It is difficult
to describe these altars as they bear no resemblance to
anything we give this name. They are rather small tables
or shelves, made in a rude and crude way of wood and
bamboo. Taking the altar of the nat of heaven (mu) as
a sample, we begin with a small log freshly cut from
the jungle; this, having the length of eight or nine feet,
is spHt about two-thirds down into four parts that are bent
outward for the support of a wicker shelf or table about a
foot and a half square. Small bunches of elephant grass
are tied to the corners of this shelf and the whole is raised
and fixed in the ground. There the altar remains until
it falls down by decay, or is run down by cattle. The
shapes and make-up of the different altars vary somewhat,
156 THE KACHINS.
but the general outlines are the same. A few altars resem-
ble long settees, and some are more like a chair, thus
somewhat resembling a shrine. But the only real shrine is
put up to a nat called^ Sdmyin introduced from the Shan.
The crosses to which cattle are tied when sacrificed are
made up of two heavy pieces of timber, fixed in the ground
and tied together so as to form a St. Andrew's cross. Some-
times two heavy logs from trees just felled, fixed securely
into the ground, serve the same purpose. The sacrifice
is not hung up on the cross, but only tied to it while killed.
The head or the skull alone is hung up on one of the posts.
The Nats. The number of nats, as already mentioned,
is legion. They have existed from the earliest dawn
of day, and still continue to multiply. No attempt is made
to classify the innumerable inhabitants of the invisible
world, but it is easy to trace several orders and degrees.
First come the primitive nats born of Kringkrawn and
Kringnawn, who themselves are the children of wind and
clouds. The names of these nats, seven in number, indicate
their station, order of birth and work. These are :
La N-Gam, the first-born, the glorious chief, (Jdhtung).
La N-Naw, the celestial Sinlap, the flower of gold.
La N-La, the protector of the fields, the common laborer.
La N-Tu, the origin of strength and the strong arm.
La Ntang, the Lord of the sun.
La N-Yaw, the nat of wealth (mddai), the father of the
Fates (mar aw).
La N-Hka, the glorious light, the source of wisdom.
These primeval spirits have all passed away, but their
names were transmitted to the first male children born
of men, and are today carried by the sons in every family.
Their work is carried on by their numerous children and
descendants. We here meet with an early attempt of
primitive man to personify the forces of nature.
The pair produced by wind and clouds, having in eight
successive births given existence to the primeval spirits
and the world in its chaotic state, there now appeared a
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 157
mysterious couple Chydnun and Woishun. They gave birth
to the celestial nats (mdtsaw ntsang ni), the earth-spirits
(ga nat, shddip), with which they are especially identified,
and two orders of the Fates. These spirits are very closely
connected with mundane affairs and human happiness. It
is the spirit of the upper regions that speaks to us in
the voice of the thunder, and the earth spirit can bless
or undo every undertaking. In close relationship to these,
while operating in a more limited sphere, are such spirits or
demons as Jdhtung, a cruel monster inhabiting caves, water-
falls and dence forests; Chydga, the cause of sores and
skin diseases; Sutnam, a gnome or female hobgoblin, a
single hair of which insures wealth and power. In many
localities the Sutnam is identified with a "wild man of
the woods" called Chydwoi. This monster has only one
eye in the middle of the forehead ; the nose grows " up side
down/ 1 the breasts reach to the ankles, and the heels
" grow in front." Sometimes this strange individual appears
in visible form, and anyone seeing the "man" will die
at once. Lately, it is said, a woman saw one in a
village near the Chinese frontier, and she died the same
evening. We are here at a stage when the forces of nature
take on more clearly defined types in the process of personi-
fication. As though the Kachin pantheon was not sufficient
for all ordinary purposes, they have introduced the Sdgya
(Thagya) from the Burmese, and in the Northern Shan
States many of the chiefs build small shrines to the Shan
nat, Sdmyin, who has the same unsavory reputation as
the Kachin Jdhtung.
But the belief in the ancestral spirits, (tsu nat), has
undoubtedly the strongest hold on the popular imagination.
The belief in and reverence for these "shades" is the
foundation of all forms of animism. Every individual at
death becomes a tsu, a kind of half nat (compare the
Egyptian ka), and in the final obsequies is sent off to the
ancestral regions. If the tsu remains, nothing more is
thought of it, but if determined to return, there is an
158 THE KACHINS.
additional nat to deal with. Most of the household nats
(gumgun gumhpai m), can trace their pedigree to some
venerated father or mother, or some far away ancestor,
who for some reason or other preferred the former habita-
tion to the land of the departed. Strange to say returning
spirits are nearly always bent on mischief. The affectionate
mother will return from spirit land and in the shape of
a chirping cricket entice the ghost of the still living child to
wander away, and death will follow in a few months.
A departed friend will return and leave his fingermarks
on the boiling rice with the result that most of the partakers
will sicken and die. An old respected chief, if not properly
buried, will cause a drought or deluge, destroying the
crops of the whole community. There is apparently no
case on record where a departed spirit has improved in
company with the shades.
In a class by themselves come the Fates (maraw nt),
thirty-nine in number, probably distant relatives of the
thirty-seven nats of the Burmese. They trace their ancestry
to La N-Yaw, the sixth born of the primeval nats. They
are especially jealous and revengeful, and their particular
vocation is to observe and punish anything arousing pride,
jealousy or contempt. We have here a personification of
suspicion, envy and revenge. They notice all reports, good
or bad; they listen to all slander, bad wishes, curses or
ill-timed boasting ; they record all undertakings and follow
every individual from birth to death. The Kachin faith is :
Speak about, think about, or do anything to arouse the
" demon " and he is right there. Consequently whatever is
done it is of the utmost importance that fate should be
propitiated and harm averted. There is probably nothing
that has a stronger hold than fear of the Fates, and nothing
so dangerous to speak about. Five of the family are
especially feared, viz., 5m chydwoi Janja doi, the fate of
darkness, the mother of them all and the most difficult
to propitiate; Nhtum du, Sa wa kdnu, the "mother of
accidents; Sa wa nu> Sa hti du, the mother of accidents,
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 159
and the Lord of the expiring breath ;' Hku mdraw, Ra
n-hkaw, the fate of friendship, whose jealousy is proverbial,
and Nga li du, Nga htung kdnu, the dryad of the plantain
groves, who knows all that happens on the road. The
Fates most commonly propitiated are the Kdjai mdraw,
the fate of current reports, the genius of aspersion or
defamation, and the Mdtsa mdraw, the demon of curses
and maledictions. Hunting, fishing, working the fields or
trading, at a funeral, housebuilding or a wedding, the
Kdjai mdraw, the "genius of aspersion," is prominently
before the minds of the individual or the community. At a
wedding, for example, there must be offerings to the genius
of the bride's family (mdyu mdraw), to the husband's family
(mddu mdraw), and the guiding spirit of the go-betweens
(kdsa mdraw) , must not be forgotten. But they all belong
to the order of the Kdjai mdraw.
The exorcising of witches and witch-spirits has a religious
side to it ; otherwise the belief in witches hi not necessarily
a part of their religion. Consequently we have preferred to
deal with the question of witches and witchcraft in the
previous chapter. The witch spirit is an evil nat and must
be treated accordingly; but most communities nowadays are
not troubled by this misfortune as formerly. The fact
that witches can no longer be sold or killed has a great
deal to do with this.
The Kachins make it a point effectually to guard village
and home by the help of the nats. At the village entrance
is the place dedicated to the nats of the chief. In front
of every house are numerous altars representative of
offerings to various spirits from above and below. At
the front door are emblems to the spirits causing skin
diseases and other bodily afflictions, as they wish to be
spared such visitations. At the back corner is the place for
the household nats, the especial guardians of the family.
By the sides and often at the back of the house are
numerous crosses indicating the number of cattle slain.
Their skulls are left on the cross or else hung as ornaments
160 THE KACHINS.
on the front post and wall. That this rather elaborate and
costly system is a heavy drain on a people comparatively
poor is self evident. They themselves admit that their religion
keeps them poor. They profess no love or real reverence
for the nats; it is fear of the invisible nats, and a dread
of the consequences of neglecting them, that is at the
bottom of all their religious doings.
Propitiation of the nats. The aim and purpose of the
Kachin spirit worship, is not greatly different from the
objects sought by religious observances of mankind in
all stages of civilization. The great objectives are to
appease offended spirits, to secure protection, to obtain
riches and prosperity, and to find relief in case of illness.
The nats are the guardians of life, property and destiny,
and their good will and favor are essential to health,
prosperity and happiness.
When an individual, family or community suspects, or
has become convinced, that their misfortune is due to
the agency of the nats, the diviner is called, and the special
nat in question is found. The offering required is ascertain-
ed and preparations are made accordingly. If the sacrifice
demanded is not obtainable, or is above the means of
the party for the time being, a promise is made that
the offering will be forthcoming as early as possible, and a
token to that effect, usually a small parcel containing some
meat tied to a bamboo hoop, is placed in some appropriate
place. When the day of the offering has arrived, the
" altar " is made, the sacrifice is brought forth, the kettles
are set boiling, and the priest begins his long monotonous
recitals, that often keep him busy the whole day. Ritual
and formula will vary as one or the other nat is addressed,
but the usual order is as follows :
(1) Praise to the nat, extolling his greatness, ability
to help and willingness to hear : he is told that he is able to
"create a hundred blessings and grant a hundred gifts;"
that, " Dancing on the sword's edge he is not hurt, walking
J ' ' ' >',-',-
Hkinjawng or sacrificial nat-priest.
'' ' " ' **** t *
*\I ' i , i> ;
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 161
on a cotton thread he does not fall," and more to the
(2) Reply by the not, making known his abode, his
demands and general interest in the case. He may tell the
priest : " I take perfect care of golden youth, I guard the
golden maidenhood," and that those who call on him " reach
the summit of wealth and attain the height of riches ; " that
he is " the shade during the hot weather, and the protecting
cave during the rainy season," and so on.
(3) Statement of the case, help desired for whom or
what; the nat is implored to help the suffering, and no
longer torment and oppress.
(4) The nat asking particulars as to offering, altar,
priest, place and time, is assured that everything is the
very best and that ancestral customs, rules and regulations
are rigidly observed.
(5) Sacrifice promised, time, place and other particulars
(6) The slaying of the sacrifice and distribution of
the different kinds of meat ; it is here that the hkinjawng
and hpunglum are mostly in evidence.
(7) Exhorting the nat to accept the offering, remove
the trouble and return to the heavenly abode, there to keep
the "life" of the sacrifice and during that time hold
his protecting hand over the worshippers :
Arise from the celestial table,
Remove from the heavenly altar,
Go back to the glorious heights,
Return to the celestial abode.
Do not revert from the path,
Do not turn aside from the road.
Remain in the celestial heights,
Abide in thy heavenly abode,
There keep the life a hundred years.
Here thy protecting care extend,
There for a century guard the gift,
Here at the same time keep us from ills.
162 THE KACHINS.
To appease offended nats is the sum total of Kachin
religion. But this takes various forms according to differ-
ent circumstances. If lightning strikes, the nat of thunder
must have an offering or worse danger is at hand. If a
house or a village burns, sacrifices must be made, and
water sprinkled to send off the incendiary nat, (Mauhte),
who is always abroad. If a man is drowned, killed by a
falling tree, a tiger or an enemy, or if he loses his
life in any kind of accident, the nat or genius causing
such misfortunes must be placated or others will meet
the same fate. If a woman dies in confinement the necessary
ceremonies will be attended to, as otherwise the woman
becomes a nat (sawn), whose special aim will be ' to bring
others into the same trouble. In all such cases the object is
to pacify the nat, that there may be no further mischief.
Protection and immunity from danger is closely related
to this. But in this case it is prevention rather than
cure that is sought. It is especially from the Fates and
witches that evil is apprehended. If a man has been
successful in a business venture, if he has prospered in
his general work, if he becomes trusted and respected,
people will surely discuss his merits or demerits and the
" Fate of jealousy v will be aroused. Thus something is
always offered to the "genius of aspersion" before and
after a journey, business transaction, housebuilding, wedding,
or the like. If a man knows he has enemies, it is necessary
to guard against magic, curses and witches. In time of
war sacrifices are offered to ascertain the will of the
nats, to bless special charms, to determine lucky and
unlucky days, and for general success. The offerings and
ceremonies will vary according to the nature of the case.
A fowl may be all that is needed to keep the Fates placable.
But the "Fate of imprecation," appropriately demands a
portion of wild ginger with the other offering. The dreaded
"Fate of accidents" is propitiated by having a cinnamon
tree riddled with bullets or studded with long bamboo
spikes, indicating that thus they wish to deal with all
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 163
unpleasant intruders, and a dog wound up in elephant grass
is hung up in the next tree to keep the spirit from
coming that particular road. If it is the cruel Jdhtung that
holds a person prisoner, anything so small as an egg
must not be considered. A dog, a goat or a sheep alone
will satisfy him, and the preference nowadays is the
dog. The head is cut off and the body is buried. To
the nat causing insanity among the common people, (the
mddai or shddip cause insanity among the chiefs, but
the common people have nothing to do with these), similar
offerings are made. When all other sacrifices have proved
of no avail, a goat or a young buffalo is selected, and
after appropriate ceremonies a part of the clothing of
the afflicted party is tied to the horns and the animal is
sent off into the dense jungle or lonely mountains. If
the animal does not return, it is taken as a sign that the
nat has departed and will give no further trouble. If it
does return, it is allowed to roam about anywhere; no
one lays claim to it, and no one would kill or eat the
flesh as it is dedicated and belongs to the nat of insanity.
The desire for riches and prosperity is universal, and
the gods or spirits have always been regarded as the
dispensers of wealth and affluence. A rich harvest, a
well filled barn, numerous pigs and fowls, skill and success
in labor, a large family and a long life comprise the desires
of the average Kachin. Gold and silver for the sake of
hoarding is far above the wildest dreams of the ordinary
man. Only the chiefs and some of the more enterprising
among the elders accumulate silver (money), which
they generally hide in some secret place near the house
or in the jungle. Some believe that money not used in
this life will be useful in the next, and thus never make
known the hiding place. The following extract taken from
the formula usually employed when riches and prosperity
are solicited, will give a good idea of what is the burden
of the prayer. (The original will be found in the Intro-
duction to the Kachin Dictionary, page xxiii.)
164 THE KACHINS.
Celestial chief and heavenly friend :
To women fullest wisdom send,
And men of knowledge ample store,
Grant red rice, white rice, grain of every kind.
Now with bovine riches is filled the house-front stable,
Crowded is the spacious barn, filled the granary.
An increase of a hundred cattle,
Multiplied a hundred head of cows.
Keep the old cow with curved horn,
Guard the old bull with dew-lap neck.
Coming are a hundred speckled cattle,
Added five score spotted cows.
With best fowls and breeding hogs,
Crowded are the spacious baskets,
Swarming under the great house floor.
Yes, hundred fowls, five score of pigs.
White rice, red rice, grain abounding,
Filled is the paddy-bin, packed the granary.
When eating old rice the new is added,
While using old yam the new is growing.
I teach mothers wisdom and children art,
And men the knowledge of town and mart;
To advocate, the priest and story-teller,
To soldier, blacksmith, the trader, seller,
I grant gold and riches, abounding wealth,
Abundant treasure, long life and health.
On wealth's high summit they now will stand
Enjoying happiness of gold and land.
Sowing and harvest festivals. The festivals and sacrifices
connected with sowing and harvest are especially illustra-
tive of the care taken to secure the goodwill of the
guardians of home and village. When the jungle clearing
for the year begins, a small offering may or may not be
given. But just before the time of sowing a great festival,
headed by the chief as representative of the whole commu-
nity, is held at the village entrance (mdshang), when the
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 165
blessing of the earth-priest (ga not, shddip), is sought.
Only eggs, dried fish and whisky are offered in connection
with the festival for the day; but towards evening in
the presence of only the leading priests and the chief, a
fowl or some dried fish is buried in the enclosure for
the earth-nat (shddip). In some localities a cow or a pig is
given and buried if by divination it is ascertained that such
offerings are required, and the presence of the chief is
not necessary. The priest having finished the ceremony,
does not turn around, but reverently goes backward when
he leaves. A four days holiday (na na) follows, during
which time no work is done. At the close of the four days
the diviner determines what particular household will
have the privilege to begin the sowing. The chosen family
makes a start and two more holidays follow. During
this time offerings of eggs, fowls and liquor are in order.
When the grain is about half grown there is another festive
period of four days (mayu na), but less sacred than the first.
There is another communal sacrifice headed by the chief,
and offerings are presented according to the wishes of
the nats as made known by divination. The long pole,
hung with chicken baskets (u yawm) always seen at the
beginning of the dry season at the village entrance, dates
from this sacrifice. When the grain is ripening the " first
fruit" is gathered and eaten by the family that made
the first sowing. Then "new rice," the feast of the new
rice (nlung unan pot), can be prepared and eaten by all. A
part of the ceremony is that unripe rice (ntsit) is roasted
(then called mnyi) and eaten by the family and friends.
This is a time of general rejoicing and families come
together in re-union. During the time of harvest and
threshing a kind of thanksgiving is observed. The
"spirit of the rice" is invoked and urged to remain in
the granary, that there may be no loss, and that seed
for the following year may be abundant. With the carrying
home of the grain the last ceremony (nhpang ba at pot)
of the year takes place. A woman picks a few ears from
166 THE KACHINS.
a patch that has been left standing for the occasion, puts
them in her basket and begins her homeward walk acting as
though she was carrying a very heavy load. This to show
that even small favors are appreciated. In connection
with all these times and seasons the spirits are always
remembered and appropriate offerings are made.
It will be seen that nearly all the regular holiday seasons
are connected with the labor of the fields. When an
accident has happened to an individual or a community;
if a person has been killed by a tiger, by lightning, or
drowned ; if a house has burned or an epidemic has broken
out, a holiday of one day only (na tat) is declared; all
other seasons of rest comprise two or four days, an uneven
number being unlucky. These days and seasons are as
(1) Two days after the highland paddy-hut (yi wa)
has been built by the whole community for the chief;
usually the last part of March or early in April. This
holiday is not observed in some localities.
(2) Two days when setting fire to the jungle clearing.
There is a great deal of liberty allowed in regard to this
(3) Four days just before sowing. This is the most
solem occasion of the year and the great sacrifice of the
chief (nat sut) takes place.
(4) Two days after the first family has started the
(5) Four days when the grain is growing (mdyu na).
(6) Two days after the rice field belonging to the chief
has been reaped by communal labor: this is, however,
observed only in certain localities. Anything corresponding
to a Sabbath, or days for especial religious observance
connected with the changes of the moon, are unknown.
In a few places in the Northern Shan States the bazaar
day (coming every fifth day) is held as somewhat sacred,
and paddy is not pounded in the morning of that day;
but this is exceptional and is caused by a tradition that
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 167
it is unlucky to do this kind of work on the morning of
The nats and disease. By far the greatest number of
sacrifices are offered to secure help in time of illness.
Almost everything afflicting a Kachin is attributed to the
malevolence of the spirits. Disease, in spite of a healthy
climate and a great deal of outdoor life, is very common,
owing to the complete ignorance of hygenic and sanitary
laws. The belief that the nats alone can help has developed
a certain measure of fatalism in regard to health and bodily
comfort. They often seem entirely indifferent to pain,
but in reality they stand a great deal less than their civilized
brothers. It is almost impossible to induce them to have a
tooth pulled, however much it may ache ; they will rather
suffer than submit to a slight operation. As a rule they
never seek medical aid until the case is too far gone and
has become practically hopeless. He expects to the last
a turn for the better, or else he simply looks upon it as
his fate which it is useless to try to change. In case of
a cold, four to eight days are allowed in which to take care
of itself. If instead of improving the patient grows worse,
it is taken for granted that the spirits are at work, and this
is soon verified by divination. Incurable or chronic diseases
are after some time given up, and the priest declares
that this is a case of ana, (a malady), and that the nats
have nothing to do with it. Goitre, for example, which
is common all over the hills, is not attributed to the
nats, but to salt introduced by the kalas (foreigners).
Some kinds of boils, swellings and sores are caused by
witches. In every case of ordinary trouble the spirits
are consulted and the sacrifices and all the kinds of offerings
mentioned amount to quite a sum throughout the year,
even for a poor family. They will often go heavily in debt
to satisfy the greed of their invisible tormentors. The
Kachins often put it that they are " slaves to the nats," and
his slavery is both burdensome and exacting.
Ideas of a Supreme Being. While thus the everyday
168 THE KACHINS.
religion of the Kachins is spirit worship, which originated in
fear of the ancestral " shades," they have apparently always
had an idea of a supreme power. A great spirit, Karat
Kdsang, is above all the nats, and he alone is the original
Creator, he is the Supreme One. Several names are
given to him, among them the Omniscient One. This
being who knows all was especially manifested at the
creation of man, and had then something like a human
birth. There may be here some faint echo of an Indian
incarnation myth, or we may deal with some transmigration
story taken and reshaped from Buddhism. The Supreme
One never had a human birth and how he came into
existence no one can tell. Still the Creator (Hpan wa
Ningsan), the Omniscient One (Chye wa Ningchyan), the
One Higher than the Clouds, (Sumwi Sumdam), a term
having almost a magical meaning with many, and the
Supreme One (N-gawn Karat Kdsang), are one and
the same. It is true that a Kachin is hopelessly lost when
attempting to explain how this one being could be born,
and still be above everything that was born, and at the
same time claim that he never had a mother. But we
only need remember that more intelligent races have had
similar difficulties in connection with their particular forms
of theology. All a Kachin really claims to know is that
there is someone higher and greater than the nats. Further
than this we can know nothing about him. No altars
are raised in his honor, no sacrifices are ever made to
propitiate him, no one can know his abode or divine his
will. He is immortal, omniscient, omnipotent and omni-
present, and this is never affirmed of the nats.
The knowledge of a supreme power exerts no particular
moral influence over the Kachins. He is regarded as too
far above man to take any interest in the everyday affairs
of mortals. Only in extreme cases will he punish a
hopelessly wicked individual, but when and how no one
seems to know. But when a great calamity has befallen
an individual or a community, when war, pestilence or
THE KACHIN RELIGION. 169
famine is raging and the nats do not seem propitious or
able to help, people will call in their distress to the Lord of
all. But when the trouble has passed there is no further
thought of him, and no form of worship exists by which
homage or gratitude is shown.
In these thoughts, forms and ceremonies we see the
relationship with the backward and illiterate races in all
lands and ages. Spirit worship as evolved from fear and
reverence for the departed is the religion nearest at hand
to the savage. It is education and enlightenment that
introduce higher forms of religious ideas.
We have left the religious ceremonies observed at birth,
marriage and death to be considered in the following
chapters. The Kachins make very little of the other
world, and I am greatly surprised to read in Mr.
Hodson's excellent account of "the Naga Tribes of
Manipur," that among them the belief in a heaven
seems to be quite prominent. The Nagas, Chins and
Kachins are in most other particulars very nearly alike,
and their religious ideas are almost identical. I must
confess that I have my doubts as to the correctness of
the interpretation of the faith of the Nagas in this particular.
Equally surprising is it to find, that, " There is a selection
according to the life lived in this world, where the ' good '
so called go to one place and the * bad ' to another." This
indicates a development in religious ideas far beyond the
conception 'of the Kachins, and far beyond illiterate tribes
in general. It may of course be that the Nagas have been
influenced by Hinduism more than the Kachins ever
have been by Buddhism.
The Kachins hail with delight every new addition to
the family. A large number of children is an honor, as
well as a sure sign of favor from the powers above.
Besides, and probably the most important of all, it is a
comfortable assurance of liberal support in old age. Every
new arrival is looked upon as an additional bread-winner
in time to come. The thought of how to support a
large family never troubles the man of the house. He
looks to the children to support him as soon as they
can work ; his responsibility ends when they are large
enough to tend the cattle or pull weeds in the paddy-field.
Childbirth, like everything else, is hedged about with
a great number of customs, rules and ceremonies. During
pregnancy a woman must not eat honey or porcupine flesh,
as these things will cause miscarriage. Yet there is
very little let up in the work she has to do, and this
with other causes already mentioned is the reason why
miscarriages are rather common, and a large number of
very weak children are born that die in their early years.
Families without children are very numerous.
When a child is about to be born, the married women
of the neighbourhood are called to assist in such matters as
may be necessary, Midwives or medical assistance is
unknown, and in difficult cases the mother generally suc-
cumbs. As soon as the sex of the babe is known one
of the attendant women pronounces its name. This is
done in order to prevent ill disposed nats from naming the
child first, as in such a case it will sicken and die.
Cutting the navel. After naming the child comes the
navel-cutting ceremony. A sharp splint of bamboo is
cut from a post in the wall and is used as a knife. As
172 THE KACHINS.
an odd number is unlucky, two or four such splints are
cut, but only one is used. The "knife" being ready the
knee of the babe is brought up to the abdomen and the
navel is cut the length of the knee. The navel and the
placenta are usually buried by the middle post at the side of
the steps at the front door. It is incased in thirty pair
of bamboo splits wound and tied by twenty pair of splits
(pali) used for tying purposes. A fence of thorns is made
around the place so as to keep animals away, and two
spears are put up, remaining four days in the case of a
male, and three in the case of a female.
Natal feasts. If everything is successful a "small" meal
(chydyen) is eaten by the old people. Dried meat, dried
fish and ginger are the only dishes at this time. Children
must not partake of this meal, as they, if they do so,
will grow up with a jealous disposition. After this there is
the regular feast (jdhtaw) of which all are allowed to
partake. Here too the principal dishes are rice, dried meat
and ginger. In eating, and of course drinking, to the
health and long life of the child, the following blessing is
pronounced by a priest or some elderly person :
This morning's natal food is pleasant and palatable ;
May you live till your hair is gray,
May you live till your teeth have fallen off,
Till you can do nothing but sit and frighten the hawks,
Till the dust of the front stable covers your body.
Friends and relatives now congratulate the happy parents
and bring the usual gifts. Those particularly interested
present the same kind of spear and sword as are given at
Presenting the child to the nats and to the sun. The
mother and child must remain in the house until the fourth
day in the case of a male, and until the third if it is a
female. As it is always unlucky to end up anything on an
odd day, the fourth day in the case of a girl, is her wedding
NATAL CEREMONIES. 173
day, when she has a " second birth," becomes a " woman "
and remains in the house of her husband. On the fourth
or the third day the village priests, neighbours and friends
gather for the ceremony of presenting the new born child to
the family nats. A priest places some dried fish and meat, a
dried mole or rat, some liquor and malted rice before
the household nats, asking their favor and protection in
behalf of the new member of the family. Having presented
the child to the supernatural guardians, an old man or
woman takes the new arrival for the presentation to the
sun. Starting from the place opposite the family altar,
the child is carried past the chief fire-place and then
taken back again, while the words : " Go out and see the sun,
come and behold the sun," are repeated both in going and
returning. Having made this turn inside the house, the
child is now carried to the threshhold of the front door, and
back again to the back door, the same words being pro-
nounced in each case. The child can now be carried
outdoors by anyone.
The purification of the mother. On the day when the
child is presented to the family nats the mother performs
her purification and again takes her place in the community.
The husband, or some delegated male member of the family,
takes a spear, and the woman her soiled garments, and
both proceed to the village spring, where the woman in
silence washes herself and the clothing. Returning, the
woman goes first and the man follows. This is done to
keep off any unfriendly nats that may be contemplating
mischief to the mother and child.
Death in confinement, (ndang kapaw). Death in confine-
ment is one of the greatest and most dreaded calamities
that can befall a family, and the greatest curse that can
be pronounced upon a woman is that she will meet such
an end. When parturition is attended with special difficul-
ties, and by divination it is ascertained that an evil spirit,
called sawn or ndang, is trying to prevent the birth of
the child, the wildest and most distressing excitement takes
174 THE KACHINS.
place. Crowds gather around the house; every road and
path is blockaded ; guns are fired, arrows and mud-pellets
are shot in every direction around and under the house;
swords and torches are brandished over the woman ; some-
one in possession of a charm, especially a thunder-bolt,
places it on the back of her head ; all kinds of impossible
means are tried to assist her; red-pepper, bark of several
kinds, old rags, or in fact anything that will produce a
pungent, noisome smell, is burned to drive away the dreaded
intruder, and to prevent " her " (the nat) from carrying away
the woman and child. But these things generally prove of
no avail and the unfortunate woman dies for want of more
practical assistance. She has now herself become a sawn,
and as she will long for company she will try to bring other
women into the same difficulty. Consequently she is at
once cremated. If the child died with the mother they
are burned together. If the child is living it is placed
by the side of the mother. If it cries when with the corpse,
and quiets down when taken away, it is a sign that it
does not wish to "go with " the mother. If, however, it
cries when away from the dead body and remains quiet
when with the corpse, it is interpreted to mean that the
child will not be separated from the mother, and it is
thus burned on the same funeral pyre. Apart from this,
infanticide is unknown among the hill tribes.
Names. The names of the first seven males in every
Kachin family are those borne by the seven primitive
nats, and the seven ruling sons of the great ancestor
Wahkyet wa. They always come in the same order, and
indicate that the child is the first, second, third, etc., among
the males. These names in their order are as follows:
Gam, Naw, La, Tu, Tang, Yaw and Hka. During childhood
a boy is as a rule called Ma Gam, Ma Naw, Ma La, etc., Ma
being the word for child. When grown he becomes N-Gam,
N-Naw, N-La and so on, and if of some especial importance
he is addressed as La N-Gam, La N-Naw, La N-La, etc.,
the word La emphasizing the fact that he is a man. The
NATAL CEREMONIES. 175
male members o* a chief's family carry the title Zau (jau),
a term borrowed from the Shan, meaning Lord. Thus
we have Zau Gam, Zau Naw, Zau La, Zau Tu, etc.,
(Compare Appendix II.)
As it would be impossible to distinguish between all
the Ma Gam's, Ma Naw's, etc., in the same village, a boy is
either provided with a nick-name (mying-hkawt), which is
usually a term of endearment or indicative of his place and
position, or else the family name is given before his real
name. Thus a Ma Gam may be called Ma Shawng to
indicate that he is the first born, Ldbya Gam, showing
that he comes from the Ldbya family, or Zau Gam, indi-
cating that he is the first son of a chief. A Ma Naw may in
the same way be called Ma Grawng or Naw Grawng, the
"addition," Nhkum Naw or Zau Naw. As the family
names are very numerous, the difficulty of distinguishing
between the limited number of personal names is not as
great as it would at first appear. Only a few of these
nick-names need to be given. They are in reality endless
and vary in different localities :
A Zau Gam may be called : Zau Ri, Sengli, Hkun Seng,
A Ma Gam may be called : Ma Shawng, Ma Brang,
Shawng Brang, Kam Htoi, Shawng wa, etc.
A Ma Naw may be called: Baw Naw, Grawng Naw,
Ning Grawng, etc.
A Ma La, may be called : La Nau, La Dot, etc.
A Ma Tu, may be called : Lum, Tu Lum, etc.
A Ma Tung, may be called : Gun, Ma Gun, etc.
A Ma Yaw, may be called : Htung, Yaw Htung, etc.
A Ma Hka, may be called : Tawm, Hka Tawm, etc.
Female names follow the same category. The first
seven girls in a family are called in the order as they
are born, Kaw, Lu, Roi, Htu, Kai, Hka and Pri. The word
Ma is usually prefixed and thus we have Ma Kaw, Ma
Lu, Ma Roi, etc. The daughters of a chief carry the
title Nang, also a Shan term. Names of endearment or
176 THE KACHINS.
distinguishing terms, as in the case of the boys, are also
given to the girls, but they are as a rule not called by
the family name. Some of the names for girls are the
A Nang Kaw becomes Nang Seng, Nang Mun, Nang
A Ma Kaw becomes Ma Shawng, Hkin Nan, Chyem,
Kaw Lum, etc.
A Ma Lu becomes Baw, Ma Baw, Baw Tawng, Nem, etc.
A Ma Rot becomes Ji, Roiji, Nau, RoiNau, etc.
A Ma Htu becomes Ma Lum, Htu Lum, etc.
A Ma Kai becomes Htang, Ma Htang, etc.
A Ma Hka becomes Tawm, Hka Tawm, etc.
A Ma Pri becomes Pri Lum t Ma Ti, etc.
Names for an additional nine boys and eight girls are
provided in case a family should be thus singularly blessed.
N-Kying. Kying Nang f
Kying Nang, Kying Htang,
Kying Htang, Ka Htang,
Ka Htang, Ka Rang,
Ka Rang, Tsup M,
Tsup Ni, Tsup Nawn.
The inventive skill in nomenclature having failed after
the first eight of each kind, the names for boys and
girls become the same.
General remarks. Probably there is more diversity in
regard to customs and usages connected with childbirth,
than in regard to any other particular of the family or
communal life. Each group of families is sure to have
some peculiarities all its own, observed at this important
occasion. In regard to women who have died at childbirth
there are various beliefs and consequent ceremonies in
Altars in front of house.
NATAL CEREMONIES. 177
different sections of the country. In the Gauri hills, for
instance, and also in certain other localities, the belief is
that the " spirits " (sawn or ndang num ni, the " women "
who cause the obstruction), who are responsible for this sad
misfortune, are not afraid of guns, and thus no guns
are fired. They fear only bows for shooting mud pellets
(lahpaw), as with those it is possible to hit their eyes.
In addition to the means just mentioned, there are in
some localities a disgusting display of the male private
parts, for the sake of driving away (je kau ai) these trouble-
some and invisible females.
Also in the ceremonies of cutting the navel there is
some diversity. Some mothers give the little one some
chewed rice almost immediately after it is born, but it
does not seem to be a general custom. In the main the
customs outlined are those that have the preference.
Courtship as known in civilized lands is unknown among
the Kachins. A " love-match " is next to impossible, because
of the family customs which consider marriage a question
of economy, to be considered and settled like any other
bargain. Young people living in the same community may
and do take a liking to each other, although it is certain
they never " fall in love " as we understand the expression,
and on account of the great freedom granted before mar-
riage, it often results in promiscuous intercourse, and the
girl becomes the "mother of a bastard," (n-gyi kdnu).
But it is seldom marriage follows such relations. There
is always a certain amount of disgrace attached to marrying
a " bastard-mother," and besides it may not be agreeable to
the parents of either party. The young man and his family
prefer to settle matters by the paying of a fine to the
damsel's parents, (See Chap. VI), and then both are free
to find companions in the regular way as recognized by
The Kachins are thoroughly oriental in their marriage
relations. The parents of the contracting parties settle
all the details and the young people have nothing to
say about it. A particularly strong-minded girl, if she finds
the man selected for her especially objectionable, may
defy the parental wishes, but such cases are rare. They
are becoming more and more common under modern
conditions, for reasons we will mention later on. The girl is
regarded as the "salable" property of her parents, and
being bought with a "price," becomes the inseperable
property of her husband's family. A Kachin man never
says " I have taken a wife ; " his family always put it,
" We have married a woman," meaning that they have
180 THE KACHINS.
paid the price for her and she belongs to them. If her
husband dies, she goes by right to the next younger brother,
or else becomes the servant of the household, unless it is
agreed to give her to some near relative. Polygamy is
permitted, but not at all common. It costs too much to
procure a new wife, and very few can afford to pay for more
than one. Most men who have more than one wife have
come into possession by " picking up widows " (gaida hto)
left by brothers or near relatives.
Consanguinity. Marriage is allowed only between certain
recognized families ; but the old rules are more and more
disregarded and greater liberties are allowed. According to
strict ancestral custom persons having the same family
name can never intermarry. A Ldhpai chief, for example,
could never marry the daughter of another Ldhpai chief,
even though there were no blood relation between them
from our point of view. A Ldbya man can never take a
Ldbya women ; to do so would be " incest " (jaiwawng),
as they have the same surname. This rule did not inconven-
ience commoners particularly, as there are any amount
of families to choose from, but it did work hardship within
the families of the chiefs, as their wife procuring sphere
was limited to the five ruling families. These bonds have
been broken through and intermarriage is now practiced
between the recognized divisions of the same family. Thus
a Gauri Ldhpai can marry a woman of the Hpunggan
Ldhpai. An Nhkum from one branch of the family may
marry into another branch of the same name, provided it is
certain that there is no actual blood relation between them.
The families of chieftains take greater liberties along these
lines than commoners. Among the latter the ancestral
practice is still followed rather closely. A chief can marry a
commoner, but it seldom happens. He must as a rule
find the daughter of a chief. A commoner cannot marry
the daughter of a chief, but nowadays it does happen
where education and modern conditions make the old
landmarks impossible. All relationship is reckoned from
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. 181
the male side; the woman's identity is lost the moment
she unites with her husband and his family. As a rule both , ,
a chief and a commoner aim to marry a first cousin, the
daughter of the mother's brother. There is from a Kachin
point of view no relationship between these children. The
mother has come from a family with a different name,
and her brothers cannot marry into the family she has
become identified with, but must go in a different direction ;
thus there are no family relations (mayu dama) in the way*
they are only incidentally (tdwu Idhta) connected. But it is
not compulsory, and no customs are violated if a wife is
sought somewhere else. It is useless even to attempt to say
what families can intermarry nowadays. We know what
was generally the custom twenty or twenty-five years
ago. Then among the chiefs it was customary that,
A Mdrip chief married the daughter of a Mdran chief,
A Mdran sought his bride among the N-Hkums,
A N-Hkum, went to a branch of the Ldhpai family,
(Gauri Atsi, Hpunggan).
A Ldhpai would seek a spouse among the Ldhtaws or
A Ldhtaw would be accommodated by the Mdrips or
While in a general way these customs are still observed,
there is, as we have already said, a tendency to override
these narrow restrictions. Among commoners, for a man
to marry a woman with the same surname is looked upon as
irregular, but it is done and will be done more and more.
Consanguinity is, however, strictly forbidden,
(1) With a father's sister's child, as the blood of her
fathers (that of her brothers), is still in her veins even
though by law she bears a different name.
(2) A paternal uncle's children, as they are "brothers
and sisters" having the same surname. There is no
word for cousin on the paternal side, all are hpu nau,
brothers and sisters; a father's sister's children are also
182 THE KACHINS.
brothers and sisters, but all children of the mother's sisters
are cousins (hkau or hkri).
(3) A mother's sister's child, as they are cousins, and
may be " brothers and sisters," as she may marry in the
same family as the mother.
These restrictions are not violated ; it would be a great
disgrace to disregard them. Marriages of sisters and
half-sisters has apparently never been practiced, and the
generally prohibited degrees of intermarriage are observed.
In these things our Kachins are as strict and particular
as any civilized people can be.
Abduction. There are two ways of procuring a wife:
abduction, and a formal proposal. The former method
is resorted to if the maiden's family are unreasonable and
ask too much for their daughter. In that case the man's
family send some emissaries to the girl's village, who there
secure the assistance of an " elder " and some of the young
people. The girl in question is led by a decoy to the
village of the young man. There she is forced through
the religious ceremony and is bound for life. But if the
parents follow and arrive before she has passed the sacred
elephant grass they can prevent the marriage. As a
rule, however, the matter is settled in a peaceful way. The
elder, who is in the secret, goes to the parents the
morning after the girl has left, he shows them the presents,
and as they are on the recognized scale, even if not all they
originally asked, they find it best to acquiesce. This way of
getting a wife " cheap," is still in practice, although it is
far from the general proceedings. Under British rule there
is still a cheaper way which is becoming more and more
popular. Young people with something of modern ideas
will marry because they like each other, and if the parents
object they can run away and settle down in some commu-
nity away from home. These innovations are greatly
deplored by the old conservatives, who think young
people are not what they used to be, and that the times
are getting out of joint. Still, neither abduction nor elope-
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. 183
merit are the rule. By far the greatest number of marriages
take place according to the ancestral customs, and our
concern is now with the rules and regulations necessary
for a strictly Kachin nuptial.
The preliminaries. When the parents of a young man
think it is time for him to have a wife, or rather when they
desire a daughter-in-law to work for them, they procure
some small articles from all the likely girls of families with
which intermarriage is permissable and customary. A
diviner is sent for, and the articles, some yarn, chewing
lime, a coonbot, a piece of cloth, an article of dress or
anything belonging to the girl, are tested by divination.
The diviner places the articles representing the different
maidens separately and in line, and touching each object in
turn with the " divining bamboo," he by his art determines
which one will prove the best wife, and bring the most
happiness and prosperity. As a rule there must be several
tests before a satisfactory reply is obtained, and the next
step in taken.
The proposal. When the divination has given the desired
information, and it is made clear that a certain maiden is
destined .to become the wife of the young man in question,
an experienced emissary is sent to negotiate matters with
the prospective parents-in-law (mdyu ni). He and his
companions proceed to the village and engage the services
of some leading man (sdlang, elder) of that community.
This elder proceeds to the home of the intended and
opens up negotiations with her family. The elder pre-
pares himself with half a bottle of liquor brought by the
real go-between, and the other half goes to the father of the
maiden. He urges his case with skill, reminding the parents
that the family seeking their daughter is well to do and
respectable; that the girl is of marriageable age; that it
is wise to find her a husband before she goes wrong
and becomes a disgrace to her parents. The girl's family
now ask for the pedigree of the young man, and particulars
as to the standing and prosperity of his parents. They
184 THE KACHINS.
particularly wish to know if they are of respected lineage,
and if there have ever been any witches among them.
If all is satisfactory, the liquor is accepted and the reply
is given, " Well, it is as you wish." In most cases, however,
so important an affair demands several visits from the
delegate, a great deal of consultation is necessary, and
the girl's family, with an eye to business, try to drive as
close a bargain as possible. But there is no law forbidding
the matter being settled the first time; it is all "as it
If the elder has been successful, he returns to his house
where the emissaries have been waiting. These have now
in readiness the "evening presents," (nsin ja), so called
because these affairs are always discussed around the
evening fire. The presents as a rule consist of a dried
squirrel or a mole wrapped up in two blankets, some silk or
woolen cloth. Of course such presents vary, and th^re are
in most localities different standards for chiefs and com-
moners. Our concern throughout is with the regulations
observed by the chiefs. The line of procedure is the same
in each case, but presents and the price paid are on a larger
scale (more than double), when a chief is married. When
the evening presents have been accepted, the date of the
marriage and other particulars can be discussed.
The emissaries from the man's 'family are notified that so
far all has progressed satisfactorily, and they now enter
the house of the prospective bride, and the real bargain-
ing begins. The elder first called by the emissaries
represents the "asking family" (dama ni), and a second
elder attends to the interests of the "giving family"
(sndyu ni). The question, how much to pay for the
girl is the all absorbing subject. The first elder, in
the interest of his clients, and incidentally of his own, tries
to procure the damsel as cheaply as possible, while the
second elder, with similar motives, argues for a liberal
allowance. This part of the programme is probably never
settled in one evening and it may take weeks and even
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. 185
months before there is a final agreement. The price for
the daughter of a chief in the good old times use to be:
one bullock, called the " liquor carrying bullock ; " rupees
one hundred "viss of silver;" one slave (shingma lai-
may am), to carry on the work formerly done by the girl ;
one roll of Chinese embroidery ; some felt cloth ; a rhino-
ceros horn and an elephant tusk ; a long, richly embroidered
Chinese coat; an old gong; a large far-sounding gong
ten spans in circumference; ten cows; one buffalo to be
sacrificed and eaten by the subjects of the chief on the
wedding day ; a string of valuable beads, especially intended
to open the " hand and heart " of the mother, that she may
be willing to part with her daughter. This represents quite
a good deal of property even for a chief, and few can
nowadays pay the price. Slaves, elephant tusks and
rhinoceros horns are no longer in the market, and cattle
or money must be substituted. The poverty of the present
times makes it impossible to attain to the ancestral glory.
The full price is seldom, if ever, paid before the marriage,
and it may take years and years before the last cow or
rupee has found its way to the giving family, who never
forget to remind their sons-in-law of the amount still
For a commoner the price is more moderate, but still
heavy enough. It includes cattle, (slaves in well-to-do
families), felt-cloth, a gong or two, a blanket, a silk-jacket,
rupees ten, and anything else that can be extorted. It
will readily be seen how neither commoner nor chief could
afford to keep a large harem with such prices for women. If
the wife ever complains that she has to work too hard,
the husband always reminds her of the heavy price he had
to pay, and he regards it as his right to get his money back.
Leaving the parental home. When the day for the wedding
(kumba shdlai), has arrived, the maiden leaves the parental
home. Father, mother or near relatives never attend the
wedding, which is always held at the bridegroom's house.
The girl is at this occasion seen without the baskets always
186 THE KACHINS.
carried by the women. It is the only time she ever appears
on the road without a burden on her back. She is attended
by a certain number of followers, namely : one elder
and an elderly woman delegated by her family ; one brides-
maid carrying a large basket of gifts (kumba lit) from the
parents, and another with a smaller basket; the elder
acting as the first negotiator, and a man appointed to
kill the wedding pig. This is the official list, but in
addition as many as wish may follow, and there is usually a
big gathering. Two spears and two swords are found in
each of the baskets carried by bridesmaids ; besides they
contain samples of grain and vegetables of all kinds valued
by the Kachin. These baskets signify that the bride is
bringing prosperity to her new home. The followers in
addition carry one spear with which to dig the hole for the
sacred elephant grass, and one sword with which to notch
the log, used as a new stairway, by which the bride enters
the new home. The man appointed to kill the pig carries
his own sword.
Before leaving the home the younger sister presents her
with such silver ornaments as are in fashion. If she has
elder sisters she must appease them with gifts for the
privilege of marrying before them. The parents give her
as a dowry a slave and a pony ; poor people give what-
ever they can afford. The buffalo given for the purpose is
killed and the village people have a feast. If the family is
wealthy and generous one may be killed the day after. As
a parting gift the emissaries present the beads to the bride's
mother. The party moves to the house of the elder
(janghtung), and from there the procession takes its way to
the bridegroom's village where they stay in the house of the
emissaries (kasa ni a nta), until everything is ready for the
The ceremony. Before the arrival of the emissaries and
the bride, some individual is sent, (probably two or three
days before), to announce that an agreement has been
reached, and that the woman will be on her way. Every-
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. 187
thing is then arranged, and friends and relatives are called.
The sacrifices are set apart, the elephant grass to be used is
cut, the house is set in order and an abundance of food and
drink is provided. On the morning of the great day all the
village people gather at the house and try to make them-
selves generally useful. Some cut and square a fresh
log, which after being notched, is used as a ladder or stair-
way for the "new woman" (num ningnam), to step on
when she enters her future home ; others spread the mats
and cut blocks of wood to serve as stools for the bride
and the principle guests. The arrangement of the elephant
grass is an important part of the ceremony. There is a
hole dug for each of the family nats represented, and
for each of the "Fates" (mar aw). The holes are dug in
a straight line with the front gable of the house. The
household nats take the side nearest the house, the "Fates"
take the end away from the dwelling place. The bundles
of elephant grass are dropped into holes dug with the spear
brought for the occasion, but the holes are not filled in.
When the grass has been placed, a squared log about six
feet long is placed so as to divide the grass representing the
household nats into two equal parts, but the grass in honor
of the Fates is all turned to one side. There are as
a rule three bunches of grass representing the household
nats, and three in honor of the Fates. The " three Fates "
on this occasion are of the bridegroom's house, the bride's
family, and of the emissaries. Each bunch of grass also
represents an offering to the respective nat in question. To
the household divinities cattle and pigs are presented,
the Fates are satisfied with fowls. A different priest
must officiate at each of the offerings, and he takes some of
the grass from the bunch representing the nat he is serving,
and waves it before him as he officiates. This part of
the ceremony usually takes a good part of a forenoon,
and the people come together for the main event.
While these offerings are presented, the bride, who has
remained in the house of the go-between, is led forth by the
188 THE KACHINS.
delegated old people, while the young men and women
go out to meet her, pounding gongs and drums, singing and
even dancing. (The dancing is by some young man partic-
ularly skilled in the art.) The damsel is placed on a new
stool on a large bamboo mat ; her followers and represen-
tatives of her family are also honored with new stools
on felt mats. Her future husband is now presented to her ;
it is most likely the first time they ever met. The bride's
family through their representatives now have the last
chance to enrich themselves on account of their daughter.
If there is anything they have not asked for during the long
days of negotiations, they now do it, enforcing their
demands with the threat that if their request is not granted,
the girl will not move a step further and there will be no
wedding. There may be hours of pleading and arguing, or
it may take only a few minutes to come to an understand-
ing, but as a rule the bride's family have their way and the
most important part of the act takes place.
When the last word in regard to the price has been
spoken, and everything else is ready, two old man carrying
bamboo vessels filled with liquor approach the priest repre-
senting the woman's family, and ask permission to kill
the sacrificial hog. The priest steps forth and with a
sacred sword, (a big, black, unsharpened iron sword
never used except ceremonially), draws a line across the
neck of the hog and then decapitates it with his regular
sword. The blood is sprinkled on the two rows of elephant
grass and on the log between. The bride now steps forth led
by one or two female relatives, steps on the post and passes
between the grass, followed by the bridesmaids and some
distant relatives. Those not related to her pass by on
either side, and all move towards the house of the bride-
groom. In some localities a priest follows the bride, touch-
ing her forehead with a loop of elephant grass, signifying
that anything improper and unlucky must be left behind.
Reaching the stairway the bride steps on the new steps
and at the front door stands the mother-in-law who welcomes
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. 189
her new daughter, and places a string of beads around
her neck. She is then conducted to the mother-in-law's
fire-place and all her new relatives are introduced. Her
bridesmaids follow her, but the young men in the party
stay behind in the place where the young people are allowed
Now begins the more festive part of the occasion. The
representatives of the bride's family when entering the
house, modestly settle down at the lower fire-place where
the young people gather. The chief of ceremonies, now
representing the bridegroom's family, begs them to step up
to the chief fire-place and sit in the place of honor. They
accept the invitation and as a token of appreciation place a
spear at the corner of the fire-place. They are presented
with eggs and cotton-cloth and they must be the first to
partake of the wedding feast. They are liberally supplied
with food and drink, and they praise the generosity of
the house. Then betel nut, lime, tobacco, tea and other
things used in friendly exchange of courtesy are presented,
and the village people and others interested present gifts,
mostly of liquor and vegetables, and become acquainted
with the new woman.
Blessing the bride. On the evening of the wedding day
there is a test to find out if the bride has a "straight''
or " crooked " mind. A large boiler filled with rice-gruel is
placed before her. If she can take the boiler and in one
attempt place it straight on the tripod over the fire, her
mind is " straight." As Kachin women are skilled in these
particulars, it is seldom a failure is recorded. There is
general rejoicing ; small pieces of the skin from the animals
sacrificed are put in with the gruel, and it is served to
all around in plantain leaves.
If there is a village bard procurable he is likely to be
called and will sing the ancestral story of the bride and
bless her future career. The two spears carried by the
bridesmaids are now brought forth ; to each is tied securely
two divining bamboos and ears of a kind of millet.
190 THE KACHINS.
These " spears of blessing," as they are called, represent the
father and the mother of the bride and are placed by
the fire-place of the bridegroom's parents : between them is
placed a server containing food made up of glutenous rice,
eggs and boiled meat. The Jaiwa (high-priest), of the
community, after having liberally imbibed of the freely
flowing liquor, now begins his recital which will last ail
night long. As it is now late in the evening all are more or
less under the influence of drink, but as a rule the crowd is
orderly. The Jaiwa will recite a couplet from his long,
story and those particularly interested, and especially
novices in training, will repeat it after him. In this way he
will rehearse in rhythmic language the story of the first
bridal pair, and the particular history of the bride, ending
with wishing her a large number of children, and a
long, happy and prosperous life. When a chief is married
the wish is expressed that they may increase and multiply
like the fruit of the sacred fig-tree. In the case of a
commoner a less expressive illustration is used. The " food
of blessing" placed between the "spears of blessing" is
eaten together with a certain kind of rice-hash the next
morning, and is then called |" public food" (tarn ya shat).
A " roll " of the hash (or rice) is placed in the bridegroom's
hand, who puts it up to the mouth of the bride, and she eats
a little of it; the bride returns the compliment and this
is the first meal of the happy couple. After the bridal pair
have tasted the tarn ya shat, all can partake of this food,
which is sure to bring blessings especially to those who may
at that time be matrimonially inclined.
The return of the bridal party. The main ceremony
is over, the guests have scattered, but it still remains
to get rid of the insatiable representatives of the bride's
family, who like leeches hang on to the last. Baskets
are woven and meat from the offerings with rice, liquor,
cloth and gongs, are made up into two loads for the consola-
tion of the lonely parents. They again through their
representatives present another spear acknowledging their
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. 191
acceptance and satisfaction. The bridesmaids and other
followers must not be forgotten and their remuneration
may be about the following : the elder that escorted the
bride, some silk-cloth ; the woman on the same mission, about
five rupees worth of stuff; the largest of the two maids,
about rupees five, the smaller one rupees three ; the
elder who did the bargaining, one cow; the man who
killed the pig, some woolen cloth or money. The other
followers are given according to means and pleasure any-
thing from a felt mat to some betel nut and tobacco.
Having obtained their presents they are carried past the
village entrance where the parting word is spoken, and then
they start for home. If they have to be several days on the
road, they can use the provision sent for the bride's family,
but if it is only a day's journey they must deliver everything
intact. With this their mission in ended.
After the wedding is over the bride remains inside her
new home four days, spending most of her time preparing
malted rice. On the fourth day the special friends of
the family have a small wind up of the ceremonies, and eat
and drink whatever is left. The bride is entitled to make
three visits, (usually styled that she runs away three times),
to her parental home, and the bridegroom and his family are
never sure that she will return to them again. The first
(lanen nhtang), about six or eight days after the marriage is
to show her affection for her parents and home ; the second
(kumba nhtang), which takes place before the elephant grass
is removed, is an ordinary, friendly visit ; and the third,
founded on an old tradition (taugu hkdbang la nhtang), has
in view the bringing of the last of the bride's belongings
to her new home. If the bride's parents are not satisfied
with the gifts received, they have a right to keep her at
home after one of these visits, on the condition that they
return what already has been paid. But if they are satisfied,
they will send back their daughter to her new home,
and after the third time she is forever settled in her new
surroundings. Cases are however not uncommon when after
192 THE KACHINS.
these visits she actually runs away and remains in her own
home. If the parents cannot prevail on her to return,
and she takes up relations with former lovers, there may be
a feud and a debt (hka) to pay; but it is not a case
for divorce, as it is not regarded as adultery. A small fine,
or simply a promise that it will not happen again may
be sufficient to square matters. Adultery (infidelity in
the case of a wife who may have had children), was nearly
always punished with death. But as a rule the Kachin
marriage relations, though not ideal, are as happy as
we have a right to expect. Wife-beating is rather the
exception. The wife has a great deal of influence in the
home and as she grows older she becomes honored and
respected, especially if she is the proud mother of a
large number of boys.
Marriage between Kachins and other races, Shans,
Burmans and Chinese is not unknown, but not at all
common. In days gone by wealthy chiefs would have one
or more Shan wives, and now and then a Burman woman.
In all such cases the children were treated as Kachins
and some of the more intelligent families show unmistake-
able traces of this mixed parentage. Weddings of this
kind were nearly always conducted in accordance with the
customs and usages of the woman's people.
Men making burial decorations.
Village burial march.
All Kachins believe in a life after this ; but this faith has
no practical importance or bearing in regard to conduct
or morals in the present life. There is no attempt to
prepare for the hereafter by any special rules or ceremonies.
Hence their belief in the life to come can hardly be called a
part of their religion ; it is simply the inevitable that all
must face ; it is accepted as a part of the order of things.
Death is not feared by the savage nearly as much as by the
civilized man. A Kachin does not wish to talk about death ;
but when the hour comes, the individual and those around
him await the final struggle with stoical calmness and
indifference. The crying and lamentation, (generally by a
few old women or the nearest female relatives), is a part of
the program in connection with the obsequies. No doubt
in many cases there is genuine grief, but the mourners are
soon resigned and composed, accepting .the inevitable.
In regard to the future the belief is simply this: there is
a life after this, lived in the ancestral realms, where condi-
tions are about the same as upon earth. Further than this
a Kachin, left to himself, has never advanced.
The spirit (tsu). Every individual at the moment of death
becomes a spirit (tsu), which is different from the ghost
(minla). The ghost is a kind of an astral body while
the spirit is looked upon as a half-nat bound for the
ancestral regions. This place, the abode of all disembodied
spirits unless they return to their former habitations, is
designated by different terms of which the most common
are, Tsu ga, the land of the shades or spirits ; Kdtsan ga,
the far away country ; Jat na ga, the land of the perpetual
increase, the abode of the departed, and Jiwoi ga, the
ancestral realms. The spirit must pass the Nhpraw hka,
194 THE KACHINS.
(the white river) where it washes off all the defilement
of earth, and putting on the forehead and appearance of a
monkey, proceed to the cross-road that leads to the
ancestral abodes. There are no very definite ideas as to the
nature of the life in this mysterious realm ; but the general
impression is that the life on the other side is much like the
present. The spirits have a kind of a body and stand
in need of food (the evening haze) ; they can make use
of slaves, weapons, money and agricultural implements.
But as to all this there is a great diversity of opinion,
and the funeral customs throw very little light on the
subject. Funeral ceremonies follow the ancestral customs
without any attempt to explain the why and wherefore.
The present day Kachin may know nothing about the
original meaning attached to the rites and ceremonies he
follows. He repeats them because it is the custom and there
he leaves it. This is not an uncommon experience in higher
walks of civilization.
Influenced by Buddhism. While the reality of a life after
this is accepted as an undisputed fact, there is no conception
of an endless existence or immortality. That the departed
pass over into the ancestral realms and there remain is
a settled conviction ; but whether they are alive, say a
thousand years from now, and if so, in what condition they
find themselves, are questions that have never troubled
them, or claimed their attention. They would affirm or
deny nothing as to the possibilities of the hereafter. In
some localities where Shan influence is in evidence, there is a
belief in Mong Liban, the Nigban or Nirvana of Buddhism.
To this place the good and the worthy are admitted. But
while they have borrowed the names from Buddhism, the
conception of the place comes nearer the Christian idea of
heaven than the traditional idea of Nigban. Annihilation
or cessation of existence are propositions as far above their
range of thinking, as the ideas of immortality or an endless
eternity. There is a widespread faith in the possibility of
transmigration, but few claim a personal belief along this
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 195
line, and still fewer hold that they have lived in former
ages. In the Northern Shan States we here and there meet
old Kachins who claim to remember their past stages of
existence, but these are exceptions, and they have left the
true Kachin faith behind. Naturally where there is a ten-
dency to belief in the Buddhist heaven, 1 and the idea of
transmigration is regarded as a possibility, the faith in
a hell would not be absent. The knowledge of the
Shan Mong Ngdrai di, the cauldron of hell (Burma ngdye),
conveys to the average Kachin an idea of a place of punish-
ment and torment. But there is no particular fear of the
place, and these ideas introduced from the outside have
never been incorporated into their real faith and life. In the
ancestral traditions, as rehearsed at every funeral, there is
no mention of either Mong Ngdrai di, (or as some say Mong
Hpyi ga, the nat icountry), or Mong Liban. The spirit
proceeds directly from this life to the land of the hereafter ;
there is only one way to follow, and only one place allotted
for the descendants of Chydnun and Wahkyet wa.
Inhumation. Persons having died by accident (lasa si,)
by drowning, killed by tigers, struck by lightning, etc., and
women who have died in confinement, are cremated. If
buried in the usual way they would become malignant
nats who would lead others into the same kinds of misfor-
tune that ended their lives. Insane persons are buried
standing with an earthen pot covering the head. All
others are interred with elaborate and expensive funeral
ceremonies. There is with the Kachins, as with so many
other primitive races, a desire for ostentatious obsequies,
especially if it is an old man or woman who is conducted on
the last journey. Children belive that they especially honor
the parents if they give them a burial according to the
best they can afford, and the departed will bless them
Order of funeral ceremonies. The obsequies consist of two
distinct parts. There are, first, the burial (lup mdkoi or
mang hta kau ai), which merely disposes of the corpse,
196 THE KACHINS.
(mang), while the spirit (tsu), remains in the old home,
inhabiting the nat-place. The next and much more impor-
tant step is the hiding of the corpse (mang mdkoi), by
which is meant the sending away of the spirit to the ances-
tral realms. The second act may take place weeks, months
or even years after the interment of the corpse. The final
honors to the departed is a most expensive affair, especially
if it is a chief, or old and prominent people. A general idea
of the different parts of the ceremony will be gained by
having in mind the number of sacrifices from the day of
the demise to the moment the spirit is conducted on the
road to the land of the ancestral shades. There are two
kinds of offerings, the first of which are absolutely neces-
sary, the second class are more or less voluntary. The
necessary offerings are the communal sacrifices (md-
yawng shingkyawng hkungga), of which mourners and all par-
take; the voluntary gifts (jahpu shdrut hkungga), are
especially intended for the spirit, and only old people can
join in the sacrificial meal. Anyone is at liberty to add as
many offerings and sacrifices to the regular number as
inclination and ability dictate. The necessary offerings,
which also indicate the steps followed in the funeral cere-
monies, are the following :
When shrouding, washing and removing the corpse (mang
shdkru at), one bullock and one fowl.
When placed in state (mang Jang), one fowl.
When making the coffin (ddu daw), one fowl.
When putting up the kdroi (kdroi jaing), one cow or
When dancing in front of the house (ndaw kdhkrang), one
When digging the grave (lup or nsung hku htu), one fowl.
When starting the death-dance (kdbung dum shawn), one
When putting the spirit to sleep (tsu shdyup ai), one hog.
When arousing the spirit (tsu jds), one hog.
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 197
When gathering wood for the funeral ceremonies (hpun
hta), one hog.
When making general preparations (Idhpaw htat, etc.),
When getting out timber for the grave (wubaw la at), one
When clearing the jungle around the grave (lup ra kanen
at), one cow.
When building the structure over the grave, one bullock.
When separating the dead and the living (mdga
mar an ai), one hog.
When dancing the final dance around the grave (lup
hkreng), one fowl.
When the friends, the last evening, put the belongings of
the deceased around the grave (bunghkaw sa shddun ai),
a fowl and a pig.
Announcement of death. When anyone expires, the news
is announced by the firing of guns "and beating of gongs.
This is especially true if it is a chief or some old respected
person of the community. Distant friends and relatives are
called to the funeral, and those near at hand repair to
the house of mourning for the sake of seeing (Idhpu yu
at), the deceased, making presents, partaking of the sacrifices,
and rendering assistance in such ways as they can. In the
case of the demise of some prominent member of the
community or a chief, usually all work is suspended for one
or two days, but this is not compulsory except where there
has been a death by accident.
Shrouding, washing and removing the corpse (mang
shdkru ai). One of the first requisites is the bringing of
water for washing the face of the corpse. Two men armed
with guns proceed to the village spring followed by two
women. One of them carries a bamboo vessel, the mouth
of which is cut, contrary to custom, at the smaller end.
(A Kachin cutting his bamboo vessels for the use of liquor
or carrying of water, always makes the opening at the lower
joint, counted from the root; but nearly everything
198 THE KACHINS.
connected with the burial (lup mdkoi), is done up side
down (wutan <?), to signify that the ways and customs among
the departed are opposite to those of the living.) The two
men fire their guns into the spring, forcing back the water,
and as it rushes back again the woman with the bamboo
vessel makes a plunge for the desired amount, and a hasty
retreat is effected.
The shrouding takes place before the washing of the face.
All the belongings in the line of clothing and ornaments are
used. The dead body is dressed up as for an ordinary
feast, and what cannot be worn is placed before the place
occupied. But in order to indicate that the dead person is
facing the, other world, bag and sword are hung from
the left shoulder instead of the right. The water is now
brought in and is poured into an old, valued gong, if it
is a chief, and into an ordinary gong if it is a commoner.
The corpse is held seated on a low stool. A little of the
water is poured in the left hand, which is passed over the
face once only. To repeat it would be to follow the way of
the living. Many Kachins never use their left hand in
washing their face, since this is the way of the dead. As
the washing is taking place, the onlookers and those
attending to the details raise from time to time a loud,
weird, or mournful lamentation.
While the deceased is still lying where he expired, a
cow or a buffalo is brought opposite the place. A priest
takes a sword and places it between himself and the corpse,
and begins addressing the same. He tells the former lord of
the house (or whatever the station may be), that he is now
a spirit (tsu), and will be honored accordingly. He is
requested not to speak to any of the inmates of the
house, not to long for companions from the earth, and not
to interfere in their pleasures. The animal is killed with a
blow from the back of an ax just behind the horns. The
carcass is divided into two equal parts, one for the dead
and one for the living ; but only old people can eat of this
meat. So in order to enable all to partake, a fowl is substi-
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 199
tuted for the very old people and the dead. The head,
wings and legs are placed before the corpse. The half
of the regular sacrifice belonging to the dead is now
divided. Parts are placed on the altar for the deceased, and
all who have passed the child-bearing age can partake of
the rest. Young and middle-aged people must not touch
this part of the offering as it will make them indifferent
to their posterity. The half for the living is divided and
eaten by all the visitors, and small packages (hkringbai), are
sent all around the village.
The body is now moved to the head of the chief
fire-place, and is covered with at least two blankets. Child-
ren and near relatives come and pass their hands over
the body, stripping it of imaginary belongings, and
putting them into imaginary bags hung around the waist.
This indicates that they wish to keep for themselves all
the luck, good fortune and property possessed by the
deceased, thus preventing him from carrying it away to the
0/-country. The eyes of the departed are at this juncture
closed by some particular friend. The belief is that as long
as there is anything the deceased may still desire, the
eyes will not close and the body will not grow cold or
stiff. In some localities a piece of money is dropped into
the mouth to enable the shade to pay the ferryman,
but this is not a regular Kachin custom.
Placed in state, (mang jang). The dead having been
properly attended to and thus satisfied (shdkru), and
having been resting (sh drawn), at the place of honor at
the chief fire-place, a low sofa-like elevation of bamboo
is put up at the nat-corner, and there the body is laid, and is
curtained off from view. There it remains till the burial.
But the spirit (tsu), from this moment becomes the guardian
family nat, until it is sent off to the ancestral realms. The
family altar is removed, and all the emblems of all
the former nats who had a place there are put out of the
way for the new occupant. A fire-place is made especially
for the new nat by which to keep comfortable; food, not
200 THE KACHINS.
containing salt or pepper, is placed before him at least once
a day, and in case of illness in the family, sacrifices are made
to the new guardian imploring his help and assistance.
Making of the coffin (ddu daw ai). The coff n of a chief
is always made of the odina tree (a species of pinkadoe),
(Idtsai hpun) ; commoners must not use this kind, or they
will encounter the offended spirits of their chieftains in the
other world. The tree, whatever kind is used, is bought
with a price; a fowl is dashed against the trunk when it
is about to fall, in order to propitiate the genius of the tree
for being put to such use. The fowl is eaten by those doing
the work. A slab, half a foot in thickness, is split for the
cover, the rest is hollowed out for the coffin. There is as a
rule no attempt at ornamentation, and the coffin is daubed
with red clay if the interment is several days off. In
that case a small hole is made by the feet, connected with a
bamboo pipe which conducts the secretions to a hole
in the ground under the house. The burial always takes
place on an even day after the demise. It must be on
the second, fourth, sixth or eight day. Only a prophet
is buried on the seventh day for reasons already explained.
The kdroi. Before every house of mourning is placed a
circle of bamboos interspersed with branches of trees.
Leaves and foliage must be left as it is, and the whole
resembles a clump of bamboo, the upper circle being wider
than the base. The whole is held together with strong
bands of bamboo, rattan or vines cut from the jungle. The
timber contained in this circle (kdroi), remains till the
day when the hut over the grave is put up, and is used for
this purpose. It must never be used for anything else. A
bullock or a buffalo is offered when the kdroi is put up and
articles of dress and ornaments are hung up around the
fixture to remain for a day or two, or until after the burial.
The first part of the funeral dance, (ndaw kdhkrang) . After
the placing of the kdroi, a dance around the same takes
place as a kind of introduction to the regular death-dance
(kdbung dum), and the funeralc eremonies outside the house.
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 201
Two men especially familiar with all the details carry each
a spear. One is representative of the living (sut ndaw),
and the other of the spirits of the departed (kdtsan ndaw).
Ornaments of miniature baskets, tassels of red wool or
yak's tails, small bells or coins, are hung on each of the
spears. Everything connected with the spear of wealth
(representing the living) is carefully attached and finished,
while carelessness and hurry mark every detail regarding
the other spear. When the dancing, a kind of strutting and
prancing, begins, the man who carries the spear of
wealth, holds it in the ordinary way, while the man
with the other spear carries it the wrong end first,
and thrusts it in every direction as he prances along.
Having finished the prescribed rounds outside, a part of the
program is enacted inside the house. It illustrates in a
series of mimic acting the death, washing of the face,
and other parts of the funeral ceremonies as already describ-
ed. The two men are the sole actors while inside, but
anyone can join in the prance outside. As the dance
becomes more animated they go through a large number
of convolutions and quick-steps, sometimes resembling a
negro cake-walk, except that the two spears are very much
in evidence and everyone is quiet and keeps a sober face.
The grave (lup). The place in which to dig a grave is
ascertained by divination. In old communities where
ancestral graves have been kept up, and a kind of cemetery
has become the result, it is customary to bury near there,
but this is not the ordinary way. Kachin graves are
scattered all over the jungle, far or near from the village.
When the grave is to be dug, someone takes an egg and
blesses it, especially mentioning the name of the deceased.
Then a party proceeds to some place where it is thought the
departed may wish to be buried. The egg is thrown and if
it breaks it is a sign that it is the proper place. If it
does not break the first time repeated experiments are made
in different places. If no egg is used, a long, low hill is
selected which, in imagination, is fancied to resemble a
202 THE KACHINS.
human body. The high end is called the head, the
lower part the feet. The rolling sides are the hands,
any small protrusion is designated a table, and a level
or small declivity is named a tray or server. The
grave ascertained by the help of the egg is always dug
so that the head is toward the house. In the other kind of
grave the imaginary parts of the body determine the
position. A fowl is killed and presented to the deceased
before the grave is dug; this is afterwards eaten by the
grave-diggers. The customary depth of a grave is up to
the small of a man's back, and the earth must be carefully
placed, as it all must be shovelled back into the grave.
If there is enough for a small hill it is a good sign;
if there is barely enough to cover the coffin, and packs
so there is no hill, it is a sign that there will be no
blessings from the deceased. He is in some way displeased
and takes everything away to the other side.
The burial (mang hta ai or lup mdkoi). The burial, as
a rule, takes place on the fourth day, but if distant friends
or relatives find it impossible to be present it may be
postponed to the sixth or eighth day. No burial can take
place on an odd day. Before the coffin is tied down children
and relatives take a last look at the departed. On the
lid are drawn rude figures of eyes, designed to frighten
small children so they will stay away from the funeral.
The belief is that the deceased, unwilling to separate from
all his loved ones, may entice some of the young and
innocent to follow him to the spirit land. In that
case they will soon die. Returning from the grave the
mourners break small twigs or branches from the surround-
ing bush, with which they brush away anything that
may cling to them from contact with death, muttering a
prayer that they may never have to go that way again.
In some localities the coffin is opened at the grave to see if
the corpse has moved the head ; after being declared, " it
has not moved," the burial takes place. Guns may be fired
as the funeral procession moves on, when at the grave
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 203
or returning, but this is a matter of local custom and
individual pleasure. This closes the first and the least
important part of the funeral ceremonies.
The second part. In some cases the body is kept above
ground for weeks and months pending the final and
more important ceremonies. The body disposed of, the
spirit must await the final instructions. If the body
is thus held, it is kept in the coffin as before described,
or else, wrapped up in mats or bamboo casings, is hung
in the jungle. It is not often that this happens nowadays ;
but in days gone by it was quite customary, especially
among the well-to-do, who could afford to go through
with all the ceremonies at once.
The death-dance, (kdbung dum). From the time of the
burial to the day of the final ceremonies, the death-dance is
danced nightly in the house of the deceased, unless the
spirit has been put to sleep, awaiting the final obsequies.
Three gongs of different sound and tonal power are used,
and the dancing is in accordance with strict rules and
regulations. The central idea is to afford pleasure for
the departed and to remind him that he is honored and
remembered. The dance is an intricate affair of stepping,
prancing and shuffling, but every movement has a meaning.
As a rule there are no less than thirty-seven different steps,
movements and postures, representing everything in daily
life appreciated by the dancers. The life they live, their
pleasures, sorrows and misfortunes are all illustrated. The
thought of death is prominently before them, but their aim
and purpose is to drive away the dark side of the picture.
The first part of the performance centers around the corpse.
The looking at the dead, the washing, shrouding, etc., are
all gone through in imagination. Then they go through the
ordinary duties of house work, and in pantomime enact
all the phases of clearing a paddy-field, planting, sowing
and harvesting. The planting of beans and cotton, spinning
and weaving, usually wind up the mimic performance.
Some of the steps and postures are rather graceful, some are
204 THE KACHINS.
suggestive of the coarser side of their life. At intervals
a loud, weird yell is raised, while the three gongs unceasingly
send out their low, deep, mournful tones into the stillness of
the night. It is especially the young people who join in the
dance, but it is proper for old and young, men, women and
children to swell the numbers. There are always two
leaders, and all must change steps, postures and positions
according to their direction. The origin of the dance is
like every other custom referred back to ancestral times, and
has been explained in the chapter on mythology and
traditions, under the section Origin of death.
Putting the spirit to sleep (tsu shdyup ai). If the family
is not financially able to perform the final ceremonies within
a few months after the demise, or if there are other
considerations why there should be delay, the spirit is put
to sleep, with the promise that when the time conies
he will be called and be properly conducted on the road
to the ancestral realms. It is always an expensive affair to
dispose of the spirit, and a great deal of preparation
is necessary. An offering is made in connection with the
ceremony of putting the tsu to sleep, and the spirit is
exhorted to remain quietly in the nat-place until everything
is in readiness for the final honors. The death-dance is
suspended, and other attentions are withheld. In the mean-
time the village people gather wood and help in other
preparations for the culminating event. When everything is
ready the spirit is aroused, friends and relatives are called
by two young men carrying spears, sacrifices are set
aside, food and drink in abundance is provided, and the most
important part of the obsequies takes place.
The hiding of the corpse, (mang mdkoi). The actual
burial may have taken place weeks, months or even
years before the sending away of the spirit, still the final act
is generally called mang mdkoi, the hiding of the corpse.
This is because the building of the structure over the grave,
and the final honors around the same take place just before
the spirit is sent on its last journey. While the spirit
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 205
has been dwelling at the nat-place, it has not actually
separated itself from the body in which it used to live; but
after hiding the corpse the spirit takes its departure.
There are thus two distinct ceremonies called by the same
name and enacted at the same time.
On the morning of the eventful day a hog is killed with a
blow from the back of an ax. After the sacrificial meal
is over a short dance is danced outside the house, and
all interested proceed to the jungle to cut timber for the
structure over the grave, and prepare the customary
objects for ornamentation. The day following a cow or
a buffalo is killed, and from now on till the end of the
ceremonies, as many cattle as the family can afford are
slaughtered. The more the better both for the deceased
and the family; the greater the sacrifice the greater the
blessing. The timber being cut, the grave, which may be
overgrown with jungle, is cleared and the structure is
erected. Three kinds of graves are recognized : the
bee-hive shape (hkinchyang lup), a shed without walls
(jdrawp lup), a cairn or a monumental casement of cut
stone (nlung lup}, usually put up by Chinese workmen.
Chiefs claim the monopoly of the second kind, commoners
have to be satisfied with the first, and only exceptionally
wealthy people can afford the third. A rude figure of a
human being is put on the top of the structure, and orna-
ments in various shapes representing birds or beasts or
household articles are hung around on tall bamboo posts.
But there are no strict rules as to these things, and a great
deal is left to individual taste and fancy. The structure
over the grave is usually completed on the third day,
and the kdroi is torn down and the timber thus obtained
is used where needed. After the completion of the hut
a deep ditch (lup hka), is dug around the whole, signifying
that the inmate from now on belongs to the other side and
must not pass over to this. In case the departed has died in
a feud, or been killed because of some grievance, the ditch
is left incomplete until the law of a life for a life has
206 THE KACHINS.
been satisfied. Formerly some of these ditches were ten to
fifteen feet deep and had a circumference of seventy-five
to a hundred feet. The heads and horns of twenty, thirty
or more buffaloes would be hung around on sacrificial poles,
making known the great wealth and honor of the departed.
But such elaborate affairs are not possible in these days
of poverty and passing of the ancestral glory.
On the fourth day, as a rule, are enacted the final
ceremonies around the grave. The final dance is performed
by two men, and the gate to the enclosure is closed four
times. The visitors again break small branches from the
brush with which to brush off whatever may cling to
them from the four days contact with the grave and death.
This ends the ceremony of disposing of (hiding) the
corpse, and the procession returns to the village to prepare
for the final details in and around the house.
The final ceremonies at the house, (shdtsim ai lam). Having
returned from the grave, a bullock is killed and a sacrificial
meal is prepared. There is a dance in front of the house,
when branches are carried and flourished. Two men
dressed as clowns amuse the public, often with immodest
dancing and indecent songs and gestures, at the same time
pretending to cry and mourn for the departed. They
ask for all kinds of impossible gifts and presents, and after
something of small value has been presented they are
driven off amidst jeers and laughter. It is now about
sunset and the last dance in front of the house takes place.
The spears representing the now and the hereafter are
removed. Offerings or presents are made to the priests.
The final death-dance is enacted. Only eight persons
participate, four on each side, guided by the two leaders.
The holes for the bamboo poles of the kdroi are filled
in. A priest takes a large seed of the Entada pursaetha
(shdmyen), and holding it in a pair of bamboo pincers roasts
it in a slow fire. Then he cuts it in half and the piece that
drops off belongs to the deceased. He is asked to take and
plant it. If it grows he may be permitted to return to the
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 207
former abode, otherwise he must remain in the spirit-world.
This part of the ceremony is called mdga mdran, the
separating of the dead and the living.
The sending away of the spirit (tsu shdbawn dat ai). Now
that all the preliminaries have been performed, and the dead
and the living have been separated, the most important part
of all takes place. A priest tears down the bamboo elevation
where the spirit has been abiding since the day of separation
from the body. The timber is carried by a small party
towards the grave, and is scattered along the road.
Arriving at the grave for the last time a few things
belonging to the departed are hung up to be removed
the following morning. Then a garment (mdjip uba), is
thrown on the top of the grave, when a man picks it
up and throws it back to the first man. This is repeated
four times and then the party returns. Flour or ashes
is scattered along the road, that the spirits of the living,
who out of love or sympathy may follow the departed
on his journey to the spirit-land, may find their way
back. While this is going on outside the house a priest
(tsu dumsa), has been leading the spirit on to the ancestral
abodes. Holding a spear before him and stepping on a
sword, he has exhorted the spirit to leave its place (njang),
at the wdtf-corner, and follow the central post up to the
house-ridge, and then depart by the front gable. Then
over grass, brush and trees, hills and mountains, brooks and
rivers, the road is shown until finally the white river
(uhpraw hka), is reached which is the boundary between the
now and the hereafter. The priest conducts the spirit
across, exhorting it not to be afraid of the wild boars on
each side, but changing appearance and putting on the
forehead of a monkey pass nine cross-roads and at the tenth
turn off to the ancestral realms. This in short is the
outline of the formula it would take a whole night to
rehearse, and with this the spirit as well as the corpse
are disposed of, unless the spirit for some reason or other
returns to its former home. In that case there is a new nat
208 THE KACHINS.
to honor, and fear and propitiate with sacrifices. How many
of the gods and goddesses mentioned in history have had
their origin similar to that of the Kachin nats I We
read in this the history of many a religion and form of
Sprinkling of the house of mourning. After the corpse has
been hid, and the spirit has been sent away, the mourn-
ers, visitors, house and belongings of the deceased are
sprinkled with water. The Fate of the mourners (sinsu
mdraw), is propitiated with a fowl. The spirits of those
who out of love or sorrow have accompanied the departed
to the new home among the shades, are formally recalled
by a rather touching formula, being directed to return
by the same road the deceased followed in departing. This
part of the ceremony (minla Idlaw at), is usually followed by
the blessing of the dreams (yup mang shaman ai), that
friends and relatives may have regarding the deceased
and the funeral.
The last sign. The morning after the close of the cere-
monies, some of the family return to the grave and if
everything remains as left the evening before it is a sign
that the departed is satisfied and has remained in spirit-land.
But if anything has been touched, or tracks of animals are
seen in the ashes or flour scattered along the road, the
spirit has returned and there is another nat to account
for. If all is satisfactory, the visitors pass their hands over
the heads of the offerings hung around the grave, stripping
them of such blessings and good fortune as the deceased has
been pleased to bestow, and put them into imaginary bags.
This being done, they return home and no further attention
is paid to the grave. The structure or monument will
in time decay or disappear and the grave will be overgrown
with jungle and forgotten. In a few years it may be a part
of a paddy-field.
The re-instatement of the household nats, (nat kdting ai).
The family nats who were suspended when the tsu took
its place at the nat-altar are reinstated, and if the spirit has
Bamboo hut over a grave,
FUNERAL CEREMONIES. 209
returned it takes its place in the pantheon. A grand dance
(pot du kdlut mdnau), celebrates the return of the former
divinities, in case the family can bear the expense. But con-
sidering the heavy drain on their resources in connection with
the necessary proceedings, very few can bear this additional
burden; and the family guardians are compelled to return
without these extra honors. Some kinds of offerings are of
course presented, and things will go on as before until
the next time guns and drums and the thr^e gongs
announce another spirit on its way to the ancestral shades.
Death by violence or accident (lasa si). The above is a
description of the ceremonies where everything is in the
regular order. But when the deceased has passed away by
violence or accident, there are different rules and regulations.
Such are not buried, but cremated; and the soul is not
sent to the ancestral realm, but to the upper regions, to
a place half way between earth and heaven, or to heaven
itself. All persons killed in war, or such as have been killed
by tigers, lightning or snake-bite, those who have been
drowned or met death by falling from a tree, and women who
have died in child-birth, have a place to themselves in what
the Kachins call "heaven." A holiday of one day is
declared when anyone in a community meets such a
misfortune. It is regarded as a special visitation from
Providence, probably for some particular mistake or offence.
While cremation among Kachins in general is practiced
only in the cases mentioned, the Susans in the Hukong
valley burn (ju), all their dead. The custom has evidently
been introduced from Assam, and indicates Hindu influence.
The other families in that section do not follow this custom
but bury in the usual way.
THE FUTURE OF THE KACHINS.
The future of the hill tribes is bound up with the future of
Burma. What this will be no one can predict; but that the
Burma to come will know very little of the old Burmans,
and will belong to a new people now in the advance admits
of no controversy. The Burmans of the past have had
their day, they have done their work, and are slowly but
surely passing away. Burma is a melting pot where a new
people with a new destiny is in the making. The large
influx from China and India, to say nothing of the European
influence, is creating new conditions. We may regret
that an old civilization, admirably adapted for the peaceful
life of a naturally happy and non-aggressive people, is
passing away, but there is no way of recalling the past
and the march of events is inevitable. As soon as an
individual or a people fall behind in the Marathon race
of history, the decree is written and can never be blotted
out. A dying race, like a dying man, may linger on for
some time, but the old time vigor and strength can never be
restored. It does not matter if it is the Assyrian, Roman or
Burman, the law is the same for all.
The backward races of Burma feel the pressure of
the modern life, and some of them, especially among the
Karens, are doing their best to adjust themselves to the
new order of things. But this is an age of consolidation,
and the individual will sooner or later be lost in the
mass. Small tribes and groups of races cannot long main-
tain their particular characteristics and peculiarities. Many
of the Karens are fast becoming Burmanized, in the sense
that they use Burmese as their everyday language, while in
other respects they are moulded by western influence.
Education, and the new life it brings, is rapidly changing
212 THE KACHINS.
lower Burma, and it is only a question of time when the
same forces will be felt in every part of the province.
China will take its place among the strong nations of
the world, and her influence on Burma, which has always
been great, will be still more marked. It is from this
source that the Kachins, and other northern tribes, will
be most largely influenced, but there are today some
movements on hand worthy of consideration.
Respect for law. The Kachins have now for a quarter of a
century felt the strong hand of British rule, and they are
just beginning to realize that the past will not return.
They can no longer acquire new territory by conquest ; they
cannot raid, rob or levy blackmail on the lowlands ; they
must live in peace with all men and do honest work for
their living. What this means for a naturally predatory
people is easy to see. They must work harder than ever
before and still have far less than they were used to. It
cannot be denied that they are much poorer than in days
gone by, and that life is to them much more of a burden.
This is the hard school in which they have been placed. As
a race they have not been able to adjust themselves to
the new conditions; most of them have refused to make
an attempt, hoping that there would be some change in their
favor, and some of them are hopelessly incapable of doing
it. They are probably slightly on the increase, but no
reliable figures are available. The census report is inade-
quate, and the Kachins will do all in their power to withhold
information. They do not understand the nature of the
census, always being under the impression that it is only the
forerunner to increased taxation. But all these things have
an educational value, and gradually they will learn to
appreciate peace with hard work, and forget the ease
which war and plunder formerly brought.
Education. Several hundred Kachins, (probably by this
time there may be over a thousand), have for longer
or shorter periods been in the Kachin schools. The
mission schools in Bhamo, Myitkyina and Namhkam have
THE FUTURE OF THE KACHINS. 213
educated by far the largest number, and today have
under their care about four hundred pupils. Another
hundred may be found in Government schools and Buddhist
monasteries. Most of the pupils in the mission schools
become Christians, and those who do not unite with a
Christian church, are always friendly to new ideas. Still
the Kachins have not been as receptive or accessible as for
instance the Karens. Only a comparatively small number
have accepted Christianity, and still fewer have embraced
Buddhism. They cling to their old religion because it is
"the custom," and has been handed down by their fore-
fathers, firmly believing that whatever may be its defects
it is the best for them. The inconvenience of a change
with its effects on the tribal and family relations, together
with a natural conservatism, are the greatest obstacles in the
way. After thirty-five years or more of mission work
among them, the churches count about four hundred
communicants, while the adherents would be three times
that number. Very few of the really leading families have
accepted the new faith. It is mostly the poor and the
needy that have come, naturally with a view to improving
their economic conditions, when giving up their own expen-
sive form of religion.
The Kachin language having been reduced to writing,
there is the beginning of a literature, and the number able to
read and write is constantly on the increase. So far all the
books printed are, with two exceptions, of a religious
nature, and for the advance of the Christian religion and
a Christian education. Most likely the Kachin literature
will never be large. Most of those who learn to read
will also acquire Burmese, and thus come in contact with a
richer store of knowledge.
The Military Police. Several hundred young men from
all parts of Kachin land have served in the Kachin Military
Police, and thus come in contact with a side of life unknown
to them before. This too has been, and is, a civilizing
agency. The military discipline, the necessity of doing
214 THE KACHINS.
things according to rules and orders, are things new to the
lawless hill-men, and must have a wholesome effect. Many
of them have also in the barracks learned to read the
written Kachin, and acquired other useful knowledge.
Thus when returning to their mountain homes they 'carry
with them new ideas of the world and its ways. That
many of them have also learned things far from desirable is
no doubt true ; but the good and the bad often goes hand in
These influences are doing their work quietly, but surely.
A Kachin people is growing up in ways unknown to their
forefathers. They will identify themselves with the larger
life of upper Burma. As they accept more of a Christian
education, and leave their old superstitions behind them, the
natural advance will be towards a Christian civilization.
I. TERMS OF RELATIONSHIP.
1. For the use of some of these terms in different
persons and numbers, see the Kachin Grammar 27.
2. Terms of relationship have a wider application than
with us. Thus a man's brothers would call his father-in-law
by the same appellation as he himself.
Aji ni, Paternal ancestors.
Awoi ni, Maternal ancestors.
Dama, (1) A husband's relatives ; (2) all tribal families
with which intermarriage is allowed, viewed from the male
side ; (3) sometimes used as a respectful term for a son-in-
Di, A paternal uncle, older than the father.
Dim, A paternal uncle younger than the father.
Doi, A paternal uncle younger than the dim.
Dwi ke, A maternal great-grandmother, a mother's
Gu, (1) A father-in-law, a husband's father; (2) a
brother-in-law, a husband's elder brother; (3) a paternal
aunt's (moi a) husband, or brothers; (4) a brother-in-law,
used by a wife's younger sister; (5) an uncle, when ad-
dressed by the wife's brother's children.
Gaida, A widow ; also called gaida Jan.
Jan, A sister (generally thought of as a younger sister),
of a man.
Ji, See aji ni: a grandfather, see ji hkai.
Ji dwi, A maternal grandfather.
Ji ke, A paternal great-grandfather.
Ji ke dwi, A maternal great-grandfather.
Ji hkai, A paternal grandfather.
Ji woi, Ancestors, viewed collectively.
Hkau, (1) Cousins, a paternal aunt's male children when
216 THE KACHINS.
addressing the mother's nephew and vice versa; (2) a
brother-in-law, a wife's brother, used on both sides ; (3) a
polite term between young men of equal age and standing.
Hkai dwi, Same as woi dwi, but more respectful.
Hkri, (l) Cousins, a paternal aunt's (moi a) female child-
ren ; (2) a paternal aunt's husband's sisters ; (3) the children
of a sister, either a nephew or niece ; (4) a son-in-law ; (5)
a respectful compellation used by a man when addressing a
women of equal age and standing, not being a relative.
Ma, A child.
Moi, (1) A paternal aunt, a father's sister whether
younger or older ; (2) a mother-in-law, a husband's mother.
Mddu jan, A wife.
Mddu wa, A husband.
Mdyu, (1) A wife's relatives ; (2) all tribal families with
which intermarriage is allowed, and from which wives may
Mdyu dama, Relations in general ; see parts.
Na, (1) An elder sister ; (2) a husband's elder brother's
wife, a sister-in-law ; (3) cousins, an uncle's or aunt's female
children older than the speaker ; (4) a respectful and friendly
compellation addressed to a female acquaintance older than
Nam, (1) A sister-in-law, a wife's younger sister; (2)
a sister-in-law, used by a husband's elder brother ; (3) a
daughter-in-law ; (4) the children of a brother-in-law ; (5) a
nephew or niece, a wife's brother's children.
Ni, (1) A mother-in-law, a wife's mother; also the
mother-in-law's sisters, (2) a wife's brother's wife, a sister-
Ning, (1) A sister-in-law, a husband's sister ; (2) a wife
when addressed by the husband's aunts ; (3) a compellation
between women of equal age and standing addressed in the
way of affection or friendship.
Nu, A mother.
Nan, (1) A younger brother or sister; (2) cousins, an
uncle's or aunt's children younger than the speaker ; (3) a
TERMS OF RELATIONSHIP. 217
brother-in-law, a wife's younger sister's husband ; (4) a
sister-in-law, a man's younger brother's wife.
Ndoi, (1) A mother's younger sister, an aunt; (2) a
father's younger brother's wife.
N-gyi, A bastard.
Hpu, (1) An elder brother ; (2) cousins, an uncle's or
aunt's male children older than the speaker ; (3) a brother-
in-law, woman's elder sister's husband.
Rat, (1) A sister-in-law, a wife's elder sister, addressed
by her husband or vice versa. (2) an elder brother's wife ;
(3) a husband's younger brother.
Sha, A child, a son, or a daughter. (2) a nephew or
niece, a wife's younger sister's children.
Shingkra, A widower.
Shu, (1) A grandchild ; (2) a sister's children's (hkri ni a)
husbands and children ; (3) an affectionate term used by old
people to children.
Shu mdshi, Descendants of the third generation.
Shu mdsha, Descendants of the fourth generation.
Shu mdshi, \
Shu mdsha, j Generation after generation.
Shddang sha, A son.
Shdyi sha, A daughter.
Tung, (1) A mother's elder sister, a maternal aunt ; (2) a
father's elder brother's wife.
Tsa, (1) An uncle, a mother's brother whether younger
or older ; (2) a father-in-law, the wife's father ; (3) a respect-
ful compellation used by a woman when speaking to a man
of equal age and standing.
Wa, A father.
Wa di, (1) An uncle, a father's elder brother ; (2) a
mother's elder sister's (Tung a) husband ; (3) a respectful
designation when addressing an elderly man.
Wa doi, (1) An uncle, a father's younger brother ; (2) a
mother's younger sister's (Ndoi a) husband.
Woi, See awoi ni.
Woi dwi, A maternal grandmother ; see hkai dwi.
218 THE KACHINS.
Wot ke, A paternal great-grandmother.
Woi ke dwi, A maternal great-grandmother
Woi hkai, A paternal grandmother.
II. FAMILY NAMES. (Comp. Chap. I.)
There are, as has been pointed out in our first chapter, no
subdivisions to the families of the chiefs. But this does not
mean that there are no descendants among the com-
moners from the ruling families. Naturally there has
always been a downward tendency from the chief families.
The succession has been perpetuated through the youngest
son, and his brothers had to find a place in the community
the best they could, or else by conquest establish their
authority in new directions. Those unable to do so soon
found themselves on a level with commoners and after two
or three generations they lost the old family name and took
on a new. For example the DSmau family was formerly
called Shkung, and they came from a branch of the
M&rip family; the Dashi family come directly from the
L&htaws. Hundreds of families, if they go back far enough,
can trace their pedigree to a family of chieftains, but to-
day they carry the name of commoners and are regarded
Names of localities, or as we would say circles or
districts, have often suggested the name for a new family ;
but in many instances the local designation has nothing
to do with family relations. The large LShpai family for
example, rule the whole of the Atsi country, the Gauri hills,
the Hpunggan and GSra communities and the Mongsi
(Monggyi) valley. It is incorrect to speak of a "Gauri
LShpai," as though the word Gauri applied to the L&hpai
only. The Nangzing or MSlang families of commoners are
just as much Gauris as the LShpai family of chiefs. In this
case the whole circle has apparently taken its name from an
influential family of commoners. The Gauri family is now
small but was formerly in the lead. The name Atsi is to-
day given a large clan, ruled by LShpai chiefs. Originally
220 THE KACHINS.
it may have been the name of a single family or of some
The same family may be divided into a number of smaller
divisions. Thus the Hpau family (apparently sprung from
the Lalitaws), has at least seventeen subdivisions or
The same family may carry different names in different
sections of the country. Thus the Labang family (descen-
dants of the Nhkums, are called in Hkahku land Dutsan,
and in the Hukong valley Sasan.
We do not intend to give an exhaustive list of family
names. It would be of no practical value. Some families
are nearly extinct ; new ones are constantly growing up,
and new names may be applied to one or more branches of
an old lineage. What may be a nickname today descriptive
of some locality, event or personal peculiarity, will after
a few years be recognized as a family name. Thus a branch
of the SShkung family came to be called Damau, because a
certain old man placed (da) a new altar to the mau nat
(Atsi for mu] at the gable of his house, a thing no one had
ever done before. All that we regard as essential is,
(1) the names of the ruling families; (2) some of the
local names designating their districts, and (3) the names of
the leading families among their subjects. Commoners who
trace their lineage to one or the other of the ruling
families will be indicated by placing the ancestral name
I. The five ruling families :
Marip, Ldhtaw, Lahpai, Nhkum, Mdran.
II. Some of the names indicating territorial divisions :
Kansi, Sinli, Singdung, Ningtun, Tingfun.
(2) Ldhtaw :
Ningtup, Sana, Tingra, Wala, Mong-ya.
(3) Lahpai :
Atsi, Gauri, Gdra, Mongsi, Hpunggan. Htama,
(4) N-Hkum :
Mong Baw, Watau, Sdsan.
(5) Mar an :
Leading families among the commoners :
Lumyang, (Atsi )
Lawhkum, (Ldhtaw) Ninggyi,
Ningtuug, (Mdran) Tsinyu,
Ningrung, (Mdrip) Tsinkrang,
Accidents, - - 68
Announcement of death,
Appeasing offended nats,
Assam, Kachins in, -
Attempts to disclose the future, 131
origin of, -
by long leaf,
testing her mind, -
by rice and other
ways, 137, 138
visiting at home,
Bridal party, -
Dread of nats,
Burma and Maru,
- 56, 57, 58
Children at play,
China, Kachins in, -
Classification of languages,. - 33
hiding of, -
placed in state,
Fear, motive power in religion, 150 origin of,
- 175 personal habits,
- 164 revengeful,
- 164 territory,
52 territorial distribution,
- 121 Karoi,
- 76 Lashi,
- 37 Law, , -
- 172 respect for, 65,
- 55 Life after this,
Form of government,
61 Loan, -
- 193 Lost book, -
first part, -
- 203 Magic,
final ceremonies, -
- 206 Males,
names of, -
61 ceremony -
Good luck, -
- 141 parents arranging details,
- 83 preliminaries,
- 28 Mats, -
- 201 Manau,
Groups of dialects, -
30, 33 Maru,
Help in illness,
54 Motherhood, -
195, 208 Morals,
Household nats, 42, 151,
117, 208 Music,
76 Musical instruments,
67, 90 Names,
- 174 male,
69 Natal feast, -
- 195 Natural phenomena,
- 152 altars for, - 39,
- 126 primitive, -
Jinghpaw, leading dialect,
- 27 worship of, 117,
97 Objects sought by religious
- 112 Offerings,
18 Order of sacrificial service, -
Origin of religious dance,
last sign of,
Plants and medicine,
Prayers for riches,
Propitiation of nats,
Proposal in marriage,
Putting the spirit to sleep,
Warding off danger,
Water, how found,
Sacrificial service, -
Sending away the spirit,
Work of women,
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